Walrus & Carpenter

2895 Fairfield AveBridgeport, CT 06605 • (203) 333-2733 • walruscarpenterct.com

This is going to sound like a bad porno plot, but after having done Rothbard in Westport, I couldn’t wait do the sister. I mean this in the most culinary sense, of course. After all, this is family blog. Okay, so maybe a highly profane, very disturbed family with kids in need of therapy, but a family nonetheless.

So back to Walrus & Carpenter. I mean, the name alone had me. It just sounded cool. And to know that this was the older sis just had me all the more intrigued.  Unfortunately, in the restaurant there are no walruses or carpenters to speak of, although the predominant wood paneling does suggest that at least at one time there were in fact carpenters on the premises.

Like her sister, Walrus is also a gastropub, but unlike her younger sibling, she is much more hit and miss. For example, I found the heirloom tomato salad with fennel, arugula and almonds to be quite good. Whereas the fried oysters with lemon-shallot aioli, while tasty, was so over breaded that you could taste nothing of the mollusk, essentially netting out as fried balls of batter dipped in sauce.

Speaking of fried and battered things, the chicken is quite good. Cooked moist-ilicious and jazzed up with a spicy-sweet combination that makes it better than your average bird.

The gnocci and the pulled pork sandwich, however, were both the epitome of average. Bland as balsa wood, not that I’ve eaten a lot of balsa before, but I’d imagine it’s even worse than melba toast. For a better pulled pork sammy I’d head to Q in Portchester.

But just when I was about to get all down on Walrus they showed that they are more than just whiskers and tusks, bouncing back with some strong baby back ribs.

We were too full by that point to get dessert though, but thanks to the rally I think we’ll be back to check out their sweets game.

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Exit 4

153 E Main St. Mount Kisco, NY 10549 • (914) 241-1200exit4foodhall.com

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The concept of this place is interesting to say the least. Sort of like a mini food court that’s not located in a mall and not made up of your usual chains like Panda Express and Sbarro’s. It’s actually all locally sourced, serving up a jack-of-all-trades menu from all over the map (or more specifically all over Northern Westchseter), yet somehow they manage to let you put it all on one bill (that you kinda have to carry around with you from pavilion to pavilion- it’s complicated).

It’s also a dynamic than can easily become a recipe for disaster should you arrive and not know what you want. Especially with young kids who will quickly become more overwhelmed with the choices than Robin Williams in Moscow on the Hudson.

On the upside, most everything is surprisingly good, so it’s kinda hard to go too, too wrong, unless you have wildly high expectations. When I say “surprising,” however, I want to temper that by stating that I mean it only in the context of lowered expectations. Nothing will have you swinging from a star, but if you’d rather eat a pig, a fish or a mule, they pretty much have you covered (that was for all you Sinatra fans).

So here’s how I recommend playing it:

Step 1: Grab a table. Put your stuff down and have a member of your party stand guard. The last thing you want to do is get caught with seven trays of grub and nowhere to sit.

Step 2: Order the stuff that takes longer to make first. This would be your pastas, your pizzas, your burger and your bahn mi that are all cooked to order. Whereas the tacos, and barbecue offerings are much more prepped and take about two minutes or less to hit your table. So, assuming you like your family or friends, and want to actually eat “together,” then I recommend doing these options near the end of the batting order.

Step 3: Order stuff that doesn’t need to be ice cold or nice and hot dead last. This would be your sushi and glasses of red wine.

Step 4: Bon apetit!

So now that you’ve circumnavigated one of the more complex dining matrixes in the tri-state, here are my thoughts on the offerings themselves.

First up, let’s start with the sushi, sourced from Mt. Kisco Seafood down the street, so you know it’s pretty darn fresh. But more than just fresh, the sashimi bowls and the maki are really quite inventive and a step up from a lot of other places in the immediate vicinity. Yes, that goes for you Hito and Spoon.

Next up, let’s go Italian. Or more specifically the pizza, because the only pasta I’ve had there was my daughter’s kidsy butter and shells. So not really fair to judge them on that. My daughter, on the other hand, has a ways to go in terms of expanding the ole horizons. As for the pies, I liked both the fig, prosciutto and caramelized onion pie and the one with Brussels sprouts, smoked pancetta and gruyere. Neither compare to the likes of The Parlor in Dobbs or Zero Otto Nove in Armonk, but they hold their own handily against Old Stone and Village Social, which I actually think has one of the best pies in town. Nonetheless, the pizza is good enough to make you forget all about the fact that this place used to be Belizzi (RIP).

And now let’s take things down a notch. As in down South. As in TexMex and barbecue. Starting at the top, I’d go with the brisket sammy. It’s quite solid, topped with a bourbon sauce, slaw and cornichon. After that I’d go with the pulled pork. The sauce has a nice kick to it and it also comes with slaw on it as well. It’s not what I would call a runaway smash hit, but unless you’re willing to roll your bones all the way over to Portchester for Q, then it’ll do the trick. That said, little known secret- Dinosaur BBQ is available via Fresh direct. As is some seriously spicy slaw and brioche sliders. So if you don’t feel like venturing out for your barb-e-fix, then call in the reinforcements. Oh, and skip the tacos if you ask me. Truck and Hacienda are both miles better.

And most importantly… the booze. They have a nice selection of beer and wine by the glass so no complaints there either. Nor do I have many complaints on the whole. Exit 4 is a nice addition to the hood and the only other “something-for-everyone” deal in town apart from Village Social. So, if you’re like me and you’re saddled with two kids who don’t agree on anything when if comes to food, this “good enough” fare quickly becomes good on ya!

3 teeth

Micklethwait Craft Meats

1309 Rosewood Ave. Austin, TX 78702 • (512) 791-5961 craftmeatsaustin.com

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There are several pockets of food truck restaurants throughout Austin, but some, like Michlethwait, are not your average bear. Meaning there is no brick and mortar location as back up. It’s just the truck. But even that isn’t entirely accurate either, because the truck is a permanent fixture on a pretty sizeable plot of land surrounded by picnic tables with an equally sizeable parking lot and a smokehouse with a trellis for shade overhead and a port-o-potty should nature call. So fancy it ain’t, but these are the kinds of places I love. No pomp and circumstance, locals only and off the beaten path.

So off, that it’s a bit out of the way, so if you don’t have a car, be sure to Lyft your way to and from. That, or maybe ride a bike to help burn off the gluttony. But however you choose to get here, it’s definitely worth the trek, especially if you’re in no mood to stand in line for eleven hours at Franklin’s for your BBQ. That’s not to say that there’s no line here, but it’s much more manageable, particularly before 1:00pm when things get more crowded.

For recommendations, I say go full on brisket. It is by far the most tender, moist brisket I have ever had, without having to rely on fattiness to get there. In fact, it’s so damn tender I think I might’ve teared up a little. So good, I would even forgo the bread and pickles and just go it alone with a drip or two of their crack sauce.

On the flip side, I found their pulled pork to be quite disappointing. Very dry and lacking flavor. I’ve had better at Salt Lick in the airport and Q in Westchester, NY. Yes, in Yankee Country! Them’s fightin’ words for sure, but I call it like I taste it.

The baked beans and lemon poppy coleslaw fell somewhere in the middle for me. Both definitely good, but I’ve also had better. For better beans try Daisy Mae’s in NYC or Sandfly in Savannah, GA. And for better slaw, I could go on for quite a while, but for shock effect, let me drop some knowledge on you about Fresh Direct’s spicy slaw. It’s killer with the Que.

For dessert, Mickle came back strong with one of the best pecan pies I’ve had since my best friend’s mother used to make it down in Florida (RIP). That and her spice cake were the stuff of gods. But now I’m starting to depress myself, so let’s get to the knife count…

3 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

Mayhem & Stout

711 2nd Ave. New York, NY 10016(212) 986-1600mayhemandstout.yolasite.com

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I grabbed a bite from the Madison Eats stand during lunch on a workday, so I forewent the Stout side of the offering, but fully embraced the mayhem side, jumping in both feet on The Dragon, a pulled pork hero heavily sauced with fiery goodness (aka Asian BBQ sauce) and topped with slaw. And while I scored points for the smarts it took not to get all boozy before going back to the office, those points were quickly takeneth away by how ridiculously messy it was to eat, making me look like a two year old trying to eat a bowl of spaghetti for the first time, sauce all over my hands and face. Scarfing it down as fast as I could to minimize how many co-workers saw this and judged me.

But beyond the mess, I haven’t enjoyed a Dragon this much since Game of Thrones. It’s not life changing by any means, nor is it an Ultimate, but it is a nice departure from the usual pulled pork par. And like Untamed Sandwiches and No.7 Sub, Mayhem has a plethora of inventive twists on the sandwich scene, so if the Dragon doesn’t do it for you, rest assured you’ll find something to please your puss.

3 teeth

Little Drunken Chef

36 E Main St. Mount Kisco, NY 10549 • (914) 242-8800

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Well, the fact that the chef is a self-proclaimed drunk explains a lot. And considering this place got four stars on Yelp, I’d say the chef isn’t the only one who’s plastered, because you’d have to be shit-faced to think this place was even worth three, much less two. And yet both times we have tried to go here there has been a 45 and 20-minute wait respectively. The second time we powered through it with a few drinks at the bar, which also had a wait to be seated. We haven’t had this hard a time getting a table in Westchester since Bedford 234, but at least that meal proved worth it.

So back to the bar, where we were eventually able to squeeze in and get the only highlights of the night, the drinks. Figures when you take into account where you are. The two drinks we had were the sake cucumber concoction and the Drunken Manhattan, which is far less inventive than the sake (my reco), tasting like your run of the mill Manhattan, but served in a martini glass as opposed to a lowball. Oooooh!

Then miracle of miracles happened, our table was ready in under 20 minutes. And lucky us, we scored a drunken, jovial waiter who went on to swoon about roughly 75% of the menu, which is always a worrisome sign, made only more worrisome by the fact that not one single recommendation was even just okay, much less good. I think he was just ecstatic to have a job and someone to talk to.

Starting with the Tossed Goat Salad, the kale is overdressed, the Drunken Goat (that’s the actual name of the cheese, which is available at any Whole Foods, but aptly chosen for its name) is shaved so thin you can’t even taste it and the chunks of peach aren’t even ripe! On the plus side, at least they didn’t screw up the candied pecans. But the rest of the salad should definitely be “tossed.”

Next came the jamon and manchego croquettes four ways. And sadly 75% of them sucked about five different ways by my count. The only one rising to an “eh” was the chutney, but I suppose that’s to be expected since Indian is the closest in to the chef’s comfort zone.

As the night progressed, the losers kept coming and I’m not just referring to the clientele lined up outside still waiting for a table. I’m also talking about the pulled pork buns, served with a hint of chimichurri. Not with actual chimichurri, mind you. Just a hint. That hint being in the description on the menu, yet nowhere to be found in the dish itself.

And for an entrée, I highly recommend the paella for none. I tried the Paella for one and it might very well be the worst form of Spanish torture since the Inquisition. Overcooked rice, overcooked chicken, overcooked scallops, overcooked mussels and a sprig of chorizo- granted I’m not entirely sure it was honestly chorizo, but it was definitely a sausage of some kind.

Now I know I get dramatic sometimes and take things to extremes, but to have had to wait 20 minutes for this performance should be punishable by death. I’d rather wait in line at the DMV! Seriously. And the worst part is that I had to actually pay for the mistreatment of my mouth! But what’s crazy about all of this is that I have actually been a long time fan of the “Little” franchise, going back to its humble beginnings as just a Kebab Station. Then a Spice Market. That said, I’ve noticed that the further they step away from their bailiwick, the more the seams start to show, because Crepe Street is a bit of a pass, especially compared to places like Good Food in Briarcliff. But never has anything been as bad as this place, which if allowed, I would like to rename “Little Big Mistake.”

1 tooth

Black Bottle

919 Bellevue Way NE Bellevue, WA 98004(425) 223-5143blackbottlebellevue.com

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Having never been to this suburb of Seattle before (unfortunately sharing the same name as a mental institution), I imagine this place does quite well for itself considering the options around it aren’t exactly aplenty. And with its massive industrial loft décor, small plates and vino selection it would most likely be a standout in most suburbs. Granted, as I understand it, there’s also one downtown, the original, off which I’m guessing it drafts its cool.

Other coolness to be had would include the crispy garlic shrimp, the blasted broccoli and the beets smothered in melted cheese (tastes less weird than it sounds or looks), which we didn’t even order, but I’m always in favor of tasty mistakes. Right up there with happy accidents.

The cool started to thaw, however with the pulled pork tacos, which were just okay, as were the shishito peppers, which are never bad, but are also very guilty at this point of a “tried one, you’ve tried ‘em all.” Seriously, I’ve had this dish at over a dozen restaurants and I’ve yet to find a place that can screw it up.

On that note, there were a couple of screw-ups. The pear and gorgonzola flatbread (pictured) is garbage, with its horrendously overpowering crust. You can get better flatbreads out of the freezer case at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. But worse still was the spicy coconut lemon ginger ceviche. It wasn’t spicy. It wasn’t lemony. Not even coconutty or gingery. It was however crappy and unworthy and the blandest ceviche I’ve ever had.

Now I don’t want to blacklist Black Bottle just because the wheels came off toward the end, because there truly is potential in them thar hills, but I also don’t want to oversell this place either. It’s good if your in the hood. If you’re not, don’t step over anyone chasing after a 4 star experience that isn’t there. #yelphype.

2 teeth

Virgil’s

152 W 44th St. New York, NY 10036 • (212) 921-9494virgilsbbq.com

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Located smack dab in the epicenter of touristy hell, there exists a beacon of authenticity. That beacon is Virgil’s, shining bright through the fog of over-stimulation (a.k.a. Times Square) with pleasers like their killer pulled pork sandwich (pictured) piled high with pig parts so moist and delicious they probably don’t even need to top it with their coleslaw, but they do anyways, and I’m okay with that. The crunch of the cabbage against the tenderness of the meat- the cool refreshing milkiness of the slaw against the warm, slightly spiced pork- I’m more than okay with it. I’m in love with it.

But as good as their pulled pork sandwich is, the true headliner is their mac and cheese. Best in the city. Wifey and I honestly dream about it. Sure, we should probably be dreaming about each other, but let’s leave that for couple’s therapy. It’s got a nice hit of pepperiness, a perfect blend of basic, none-too-fancy cheeses like cheddar and American I’m assuming. All topped with an evangelical halo of crunchy, ever-so-slightly burnt cheese. Trust me, you want this bad.

I also dig their jalapeño cornbread. It’s cheesy, a little sweet, and of course spicy. Which reminds me, they also have a healthy selection of hot sauces worth trying if their barbecue sauce isn’t doing enough for you.

As for the ribs, brisket, chicken, etc… There are better to be had in the city. Daisy May’s is my numero uno when it comes to ribs, Hill Country and Blue Smoke for brisket- jury is still out on BBQ chicken. But getting back to Virgil’s, it’s still damn good. Especially when you take into account it’s location.

4 teeth

Yellow Dog Eats

1236 Hempel Ave. Windermere, FL 34786(407) 296-0609 • yellowdogeats.com
 
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Located in Gotha, wherever the hell that is (technically Windermere)- just plug it into your nav and you will find this shack de barbecue that apparently a lot of other people seem to have found as well, because the place gets packed fast. Hence why they have two large, dirt parking lots around back, which is still not enough to hold all of the cars during a peak mealtime rush (obviously a lot other people know where Gotha is, that, or they also have navigation systems). And while all of this attention seems like a good sign for greatness, I can’t say Yellow dog hit it out of the park.

I dig the vibe though. An oasis unto itself, with a terrific outdoor seating area, complete with live music and mosaic tables. Inside the shack itself, it’s counter ordering style with laminated menus that are loaded with some of the best names I’ve ever seen in a restaurant. Names like What the Fig?, The Holy Crap, Hong Kong Fooey, The Thin Elvis, White trash, and my personal favorite, The Pig with Benefits.

Of the ones I’ve tried, I had to go purist and start with the Dog’s Famous Pulled Pork. “No tricks. No weapons. Just skill against skill alone.” (a movie quote for all you pop culture buffs). And while it is most certainly good, I can’t say I’m in love with their Fish’s Gold BBQ sauce. It’s a little too sweet for my tastes and whatever else is in it doesn’t quite net out as spice for me, falling somewhere closer to tang, which is an “also ran” in my eyes when you’re up against heat.

And speaking of heat, I have also done me a Fire Pig, which kicks things up a notch with the help of Srirracha, but I still can’t say it’s amazing. Definitely better, because the heat helps balance the sweet a bit, but in the land of pulled pork this doesn’t even pull a top twenty on my list.

There’s fun for the kids as well, with sammies like the Fluffy Love. Basically a peanut butter and banana with marshmallow whip, but not the jarred crap, the real homemade deal. It’s also just okay, however (Yes, I stole a bite from my three-year-old daughter. And yes, I’m a horrible father). One caution though, it’s messy as all get out. We’re talking marshmallow in the hair and peanut butter up the sides of the face like Heath Ledger as The Joker. And that’s just me! My daughter needed power washing! Told ya I was a bad father. So bad, in fact, that after this debauchery, we even shared a slice of coconut cake, but sadly that was the nail in the coffin for Yellow Dog, because once again they delivered below expectation.

All in all, Yellow Dog is a fun adventure, if you simply crave solace from hotel food and/or the Disney scene. But I would definitely keep the expectations lower than the Yelp star count. There’s much better BBQ to be had in Orlando, not to mention better sandwiches. Just not better names for them.

2 teeth

 

Live Bait

14 E 23rd St. New York, NY 10010(212) 353-2400livebaitnyc.com

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Dressed to look like something born on the bayou, Live Bait is actually the originator of the Flatiron’s recent love affair with Southern cooking, marked by followers such as Blue Smoke, Hill Country, Maysville and Bo’s, all just steps away in a variety of directions. And that’s not even counting the failed attempts such as Gravy (RIP) and J. Gumbo’s (RIP).

That said, while Live Bait most certainly earns the rightful claim to first dibs, I much prefer all four of the previously mentioned. All have better food and better decor. But to be fair, Live Bait is also a bit of a breed all its own, because Bo’s and Maysville are both much nicer. And Hill Country and and Blue Smoke are clearly barbecue. So in truth, Live Bait actually manages to fill a culinary void in the hood, which is down and dirty Cajun. Emphasis on the word “dirty” because that’s kind of the theme here, from the rice to the vibe.

Service is somewhat friendly with a hit of New York bite and the bar is well appointed for benders well into the wee hours. In terms of food, depending on what you order and how tired and/or drunk you are, it can hit the spot quite nicely with a bevy of pleasers (most of them fried) like hush puppies, fried pickles, shrimp and grits, collards and catfish. They also have blackened things and even a pulled pork sandwich, but if you’re going that way I’d strongly urge that you check out Blue Smoke or Hill Country instead.

And while Live Bait definitely has its place, depending on your food mood, budget, or blood-alcohol level, there’s also nothing great about it other than the fact that they are nothing like the other Southern options nearby, kind of in a bad way. But for southern bar food-meets-fish-joint fare, it checks the box. Albeit a very hyper-specific, inebriated box.

2 teeth