Jesup Hall

90 Post Rd EWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 557-6198 • jesuphall.com

Just stop it already Whelk people. You are making the restaurant business look WAY too easy. I mean, do you ever miss? If not, would you mind doing it just once so the rest of the industry doesn’t look so inept by comparison?

Yes, from the people who brought you The Whelk, Le Farm (RIP) and Kawa Ni comes yet another homerun. It’s enough to make Barry Bonds feel inadequate.

And I have to admit, I was skeptical this time, with the stiff competition of Rothbard on the floor below. But once again, I am proven deliciously wrong. Just one bite of their Monkey Bread and you will start making involuntary noises that would have Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally blushing like the wrong end of a red-assed baboon. It is lick-the-plate addicting, but please do your best not to fill up, because there’s more where that come from.

Like the buratta for example. Sure, buratta is usually a layup, but in the right hands, it can be the game winning shot. Just excellent. Less so would be the cauliflower which the love to push as the end all be all. It’s certainly good, and clearly inspired by Ilili in New York. But it’s drowning a bit in add-ons and you really don’t taste the cauliflower.

The grits with spicy crab nudja were also quite good, but a little odd at the same time, trying to pay homage to shrimp and grits I suppose, but it’s not quite as good and it’s also not the most visually appealing dish of the lot.

The burger is also very good (pictured), but having tried the burger at The Whelk, Kawa Ni and now here, I gotta give it to the Whelk. But fret not, because if it’s meat supremacy you’re after, the steak is tops. Easily blowing away the rib-eye over at The Cottage. And if you’ve read my review, you know how much I love that place, but meat vs. meat, there’s no contest.

Finally, be sure to end your night on a high note with the lemon curd tart. It sings.

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Autograph Brasserie

503 W Lancaster Ave. Wayne, PA 19087 • (610) 964-2588autographbrasserie.com

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If you should ever find yourself in or near Wayne, Pennsylvania, perhaps visiting your child at Villanova, you will be delighted to know that I have you covered, because believe it or not, there’s actually a pretty rock solid place for lunch right there on the main drag.

Relatively a newcomer, this remodeled space is a wonderful homage to celeb photography that sprawls through the various interesting rooms. They also have a nice outdoor patio in the summer, but that comes without the photo gallery.

To drink I recommend the special Arnold Palmer and to eat I can’t say there is a miss to be had. Everything is either good or better, starting with the burrata salad appetizer which is a variation on a caprese.

Also nicely done for a place north of the Mason-Dixon are the shrimp and grits. And for all you pus fans out there- no, not Billy Bush and Donald Trump, I’m referring to the one “S,” tentacled variety. The octopus starter is one of the best things I’ve had here, only bested by the mushrooms with faro, which for a vegetarian dish is surprisingly hearty, so don’t order unless you’re borderline ravenous.

Sadly I have yet to partake in the dessert menu here, but my hope is that the third time will in fact be a charm.

3 teeth

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

Walton’s Fancy & Staple

609 W 6th St. Austin, TX 78701(512) 542-3380 waltonsfancyandstaple.com

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I’m not really sure where the fancy is, because it’s definitely not in the décor. Not that it’s a shithole or anything, but fancy it ain’t. It’s your run of the mill counter service café with some prepared foods and several made-to-order options listed on huge boards overhead. Maybe they were going for irony?

As for the staple side of the equation, I think I get it. All of the dishes are your basic staples from sandwiches to French toast to shrimp and grits (a southern staple). But each of them has a little twist, which I suppose could be construed as “fancy,” but I still think that’s being generous with the term. Very caught up on this fancy thing as you can see. Lost a lot of sleep.

As for the “fancy” twists of which I speak, the shrimp and grits was actually the best I’ve ever had, fancied up with blackened shrimp placed over a bed of jalapeno, cheddar grits. It is a savory, spicy masterpiece.

The other fancied up dish was the crème brulee battered French toast, which was good, but not great. It’s just too damn big for its own good. It’s a fatal mistake I see time and time again. Restaurants all trying to get tricky with different batters, coatings, breads and portion sizes, when the only thing that really matters at the end of the day is to soak the bread through and through for fuck sake! How hard is it? Just do that and I could care less about the brioche, challah, raisin walnut, caramelized, bread pudding, burnt brown butter, cinnamon dusted, macerated apple topping.

Back on the plus side, their chai latte is pretty damn skippy.

3 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

K Restaurant

1710 Edgewater Dr. Orlando, FL 32804(407) 872-2332kwinebar.com

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Having spoke lovingly about Cask & Larder and Highball & Harvest (I have a thing for ampersands), I was told K put them both to shame, so naturally it became a moral imperative for me to visit K and see if the chef could put his menu where his mouth is. And at the onset, things seemed very promising, I liked the décor inside and out. It’s located in a house with a charming wraparound porch for the outdoor seating and inside it was equally charming and warm, with just the right hint of modern.

I also thought our waiter was excellent. Knowledgeable and passionate about every dish, not bashful with the recommendations and as an added bonus, he was studying for his level two sommelier exam so he was Johnny on the spot with the suggestions on vino. In fact, he didn’t stop there either, bringing out a few extra freebie pairings along the way, to help some of the dishes shine. And help shining they most certainly needed, because not one single dish was amazing and many were underwhelming.

Starting with the better half, I would recommend the K filet, cooked spot on medium rare and perched on a tasty brick of au gratin. But truth be told, the au gratin really made the dish, so a bit of a backhanded compliment on this one.

The heirloom tomato salad was farm fresh and mighty all righty. The beet salad was also nice, but both salads are very common dishes and neither were inventive, so I’m not about to climb a mountain to espouse their praises.

Next up, the deviled eggs were very good, done with a clever recreation of bacon bits, but having just had the best deviled eggs in my life less than a year ago at a place called Libertine in Indianapolis, I found it hard to swoon too much over these.

And last but not least, the pork chop. Just barely making it across the mid-line, it was two inches thick in a preparation that made it flavorful, with sweet potatoes at its side and a red cabbage slaw on top. Sadly, its own flavor was a bit lost due to the fact that it was a hair overcooked and therefore on the dry side.

Now for the rejects, and some of these are going to come as a shock to the K faithful. The shrimp and grits, while served in a nice barbeque sauce with some good kick, actually wound up backfiring in my opinion, because it overpowered everything in the dish. The shrimp were two small to hold up and the meager portion of grits didn’t do much better. As a result, the dish tasted more like a bowl of spicy barbeque sauce with chunks. Maybe they were going for a variation on etouffee? Well, they choked. Get it? Etouffee means “to choke.” …At least I amuse myself.

Speaking of choking, the crab salad over fired green tomatoes (pictured) was so far beneath the one at Highball & Harvest I think K should have to stop serving it out of principle. And whoever dared to compare the two dishes- I’m not going to point fingers or call anyone out by name (my mother), should be absolutely mortified.

And while we’re busy taking things off the menu, let’s also nix the mahi, which was overcooked and absolute crap. But even worse was the gnocci, tasting like a bowl of mush drowning in a sea of over-preparation.

Now the smart money might guess that we cut our losses at this point and passed on dessert, but never let it be said that I always do the smart thing. Besides, this is for posterity and a sacrifice I was willing to make for you, my followers.

Of the three we tried, the French toast bread pudding was the clear winner. The peanut butter cake would be a distant second, partly because it deserves it, but also because I’m not the hugest fan of peanut butter in the dessert form. Not sure why, but I’m sure it’ll come out one day in therapy. And last, and actually least, the budino was lame-o.

A tough call between two and three knives, but I’m going with a rare lean toward the positive, mostly because of the service. That said, K is definitely more of a C in my book.

3 teeth