Review: Counter Cafe. Austin, TX.

 Counter Cafe
626 N Lamar Blvd
Austin, TX 78703

One weekend, with my wife needing to be in San Antonio for a bachelorette party on Saturday, we decided to spend our Friday in Austin (of course eating). The plan was to get down early for lunch and wait in line at Franklin’s.

Unfortunately, a wreck on I35 slowed us down an hour and by the time we got to Franklin’s they were out of brisket.

Disheveled, distraught, and a million other words that begin with “dis”, we regrouped and headed over to Counter Cafe. I intentionally left the part out where we listened to Coldplay and cried in our car.

Counter cafe is a tiny little diner with a handful of 2 top tables and counter service. When we got there, all the tables were filled and we waited a bit for something to open up. After a while, 3 seats opened up at the counter (not the best situation with a 2 year old, but we went with it).

The food is gourmet diner food made with organic and as local as possible ingredients. It’ a common concept idea these days, but Counter Cafe was a pioneer of the genre.

The first plate we ordered was the Counter Burger. Topped with organic veggies and cheddar, the all natural beef was a nice thickness and plenty juicy. The white bun had a sweetness that I’m not super into, but the burger was solid none-the-less.

The fries were outstanding. Simple but amazing.

Mrs. Roadrunner ordered Crab Cake Benedict. The crab seemed like it needed to be pick through a little better (too much shell). The toast and egg were fine, nothing to write home about.

Overall, this place is a solid choice for the hipster diner scene. The food won’t blow you away, but you could do a lot worse.

RATING: ***

Counter Cafe on Urbanspoon

Review: Tried and True. Dallas, TX.

Tried and True
2405 N Henderson Ave
Dallas, TX 75206

Let’s set the table a bit here (no pun intended). It was a Saturday night. Mrs. Roadrunner and I had just finished the most epic 3rd birthday party ever and we were looking for a place to celebrate. The target was a place that we could grab some drinks with a couple of friends. Good food would be a plus. So we headed over to Tried & True to give it a shot and I gotta say the place was exactly what we were looking for.

We got there and were quickly seated. The waitresses are girl-next-door types (seriously everyone at the table said “I think I know her from somewhere”) and the layout includes high top tables, booths, a bar, pool table, etc. We ordered our drinks (Beer Buddy says the Beer selection is quite admirable by the way) and shifted our attention to food.

Up first were the Brisket Nachos. Chips topped with cheese, pico de gallo, avocado, jalapeno, sour cream….. oh and the most amazing, peppery, moist delicious brisket. I’m not sure how good the brisket would be by itself, but it is damn good on these nachos.

This dish alone is worth coming here. Talking about it again the next day with Mrs. Roadrunner got so intense, you’d swear we were in the midst of foreplay (from what I can remember foreplay to be like, we are married after all, it’s been a while).

The second appetizer was the cornmeal squid. Honestly, these were a complete miss. More cornmeal than squid and the cornmeal was a bit harsh on the mouth (the word sandpaper comes to mind). The sauces, a cocktail and a tartare, didn’t do too much for me either.

The Off-Site Kitchen burger (named after owner Nick Badovinus’ Burger joint Off-Site Kitchen) was the first entree. It was awesome. I ordered mine all the way with bacon and a fried egg. The only complaint (and it’s a little one) is that the bun was overwhelmed by the juiciness of the patty. Still great though. Makes me want to go to Off-Site Kitchen ASAP.

The fries were similar to the ones I’d had at Neighborhood Services (another Badovinus restaurant). They’re good. Real good.

The Mrs. ordered the chicken tacos.  Wonderfully flavored chicken topped with pico, avocado, cheese and pickled onion, wrapped in a fresh flour tortilla. They’re a solid choice. Not the best tacos ever, but good none the less.

One of the members of our group had to wait a bit longer to get her meal, so the chef sent out a complimentary desserts. The stand out of the two was definitely the Pecan Pie. Possibly the best Pecan Pie I’ve ever had a restaurant. The brownie a la mode was solid as well.

Overall, if you’re looking for a bar with good food, this place is a can’t miss. Order the nachos, burger and pecan pie. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

RATING: ***

Tried and True on Urbanspoon

Review: Little Big Burger. Portland, OR.

Little Big Burger
3810 SE Division St
Portland, OR 97202

Sometimes when I’m traveling, after a long day at the office, I just want to go somewhere simple and make a burger my biatch. A burger paired with some fries is the ultimate comfort food to me. But comfort food doesn’t have to be low brow.

When I tell people about Little Big Burger, my usual description is “It’s Portland’s Shake Shack.” While that sounds like a bit of an indictment of LBB’s originality, I actually mean it as a compliment.

Their emphasis on local & organic (especially taking into consideration that it’s a fast casual restaurant) is awesome.

The menu, as seen on the outside of the building, is simple. It’s pretty much: Do you want cheese on your burger (who says no to that)? What kind (they offer 4 different local cheeses: chevre, swiss, cheddar, bleu)? Do you want fries?

For dessert they offer floats made with tillamook vanilla ice cream. No frills. All wonderful.

The burger I order is a cheeseburger (cheddar) all the way with truffle fries (that’s right the default preparation for french fries is tossed in trufle oil, hell yea). The only downfall to the burger is, welp, it’s kinda little. I went back and ordered another in order to fill up.

The fries are really good, of course I could drink truffle oil.

Overall, Little Big Burger is a really good burger, responsibly sourced and prepared wonderfully.

RATING: ***

Little Big Burger on Urbanspoon

Review: St. Jack. Portland, OR.

St. Jack
2039 SE Clinton St
Portland, OR 97202

I love french food. I know it’s cliche, but that doesn’t matter to me. I credit the french bistros in Manhattan with a large chunk  of my obsession with food. I loved food before, but those places really opened my eyes with regards to food.

St. Jack in Portland is a great example of a well done traditional french bistro. It takes me back a few years to a place where amazing food was completely new to me.

Rolling up on a Tuesday after work, I ended up sitting outside (for picture-taking purposes, you’re welcome). The service was really great and the weather was even better.

Starting off, I had escargots with ham, mushrooms and gruyere croutons. They were nothing spectacular, but enjoyable none the less.

For the entree, I ordered the ubiquitous steak frites. Similar to the escargot, the dish was nothing amazing, but a solid play on a standard french dish. The steak was nicely cooked, though a bit under seasoned. The fries were okay, nothing to write home about.

For dessert I had baked to order madeleines. These were the best part of the meal. Hot and fresh out of the oven, they had a light lemon flavor which combined nicely with the thin layer of powdered sugar. If you go here, get these.

Overall, I’d say this place is the go to for traditional french bistro fare in Portland. If that is what you’re after and you’re in the area, this place is a can’t miss.

RATING: ***
Patisserie St. Jack on Urbanspoon

Review: Luce. Portland, OR.

Rolling up to Luce the week after Bon Appetit named it a top 10 restaurant in america last month, I was fully prepared to bombarded by a hipster apocalypse. To my surprise the crowd was surpisingly, even hilariously, geriatric (it was right at 5 afterall, who else eats that early?). The patrons were quite aware of the recent accolades garned by the restaurant. One older gentleman went so far as to read the BA the article to his wife in complete AD Club Sauce style. Hilarious.

The restaurant is really small and I arrived expecting a 3hr wait. It turned out to only be 45mins-1hr before I was sat, so that was nice. The meal however, took forever. About 3 hours in total. (That’s a 4 hour dinner experience folks, 4 HOURS! Ain’t Nobody got time for that)

The staff was super friendly, so I hate to say anything negative about the experience. But it’s not like they’re  hurting for praise these days. So let’s, as they say, keep it real.

The antipasti and charcuterie came out first. The charcuterie was absolutely nothing special. Let’s get that out the way. Out of the antipasti, the clams were really good. The potato salad was okay and the mozzarella with anchovies were not good.

The Salt Foccacia was good, but not as good as I expected it to be (I was really excited for this meal).

 For pasta, I got the spaghetti with hot peppers and clams. Since this recipe actually appears in the issue, I was expected a lot. Like a lot of the meal, it was just OK.

The hanger steak was definitely the best part of the meal in my opinion. This recipe appears in the magazine as well. The steak is cooked and served in a garlic rosemary olive oil. It was both simple and delicious.

I had a hazelnut chocolate cake for dessert, which I don’t have the photo of. It was good, definitely worth getting if you’re there.

Overall, I would say this is a good meal, but no way is it a top 10 new restaurant in america. Based on the comments of Andrew Knowlton I expected to be blown away by the quality of the ingredients and I just wasn’t. If you’re expecting to be wowed like I was, steer clear. If you want a simple, solid italian meal that takes 3-4hrs to get through, then give it a shot.

RATING: ***
Luce on Urbanspoon

Review: Dexter’s. Orlando, FL.

Dexter’s
808 East Washington Street
Orlando, FL 32801

After spending a day at Disney World, we woke up with a lot of time before our flight and one goal in mind….. find some good brunch. I had done a little research, but not a ton. It seemed when people talked about brunch in Orlando, Dexter’s was a common theme. We decided to pack up and head into downtown to give it a try.

The neighborhood was nice and when we got in we were immediately seating (Side Note: generally I get scared not having to wait to eat brunch but I had walked all day the day before and was happy to be seated quickly).

The first plate we ordered was a skirt steak burrito. Steak and eggs with sour cream and guacamole on the side. It wasn’t spectacular, but wasn’t bad either.

The French toast came with vanilla glaze, fresh fruit compote and marnier glaze. I felt the same way about it as I did the burrito, good but not great.

The winner of this meal and probably the best thing I ate in Florida was the Eggs benedict with smoked turkey,tomato and honey hollandaise on french bread. This thing was outstanding. Simple, no frills, but outstanding. If you go here, please get this.

Overall, we definitely felt like this meal was worth the jaunt from Disney to Downtown. If you’re in the area and looking for a good brunch, this place gets the roadrunner seal of approval.

RATING:***

Dexter's on Urbanspoon

 

 

Review: The Floridian. St. Augustine, FL.

The Floridian
39 Cordova St.
St Augustine, FL 32084

I remember in grad school one of my economics professors loved to talk about the economic principles behind restaurant placement. One paper that he referred to often spoke of how the worst food was always found where there was the most foot traffic (read: touristy areas). Much to our delight, St. Augustine seems to buck that trend.

The Floridian was the restaurant we chose to eat at for Mrs. Roadrunner’s birthday. It came recommended by a hipster working at Hyppo (Side note: Hipsters are always reliable when it comes to local recommendations. When you need something good to eat, find the dude with the skinniest jeans in the area and ask him). We went there a bit late and it doesn’t get a ton of natural light, so the pics suck.

The first appetizer (yes, first. we were celebrating) was a golden summer scallop ceviche. It had nice bits of corn and some mango for sweetness and it was served with chips for sipping. It was a nice start.

The next appetizer was fried green tomatoe bruschetta. It was topped with basil, goat cheese and chili-cumin aioli and put on artisan bread. This was our favorite dish of the night. Super good.

 My main course was the “Southern Gentleman.” It was a burger on french bread, topped with goat cheese, house made bacon, chipotle mayo and peaches. It actually didn’t do a ton for me and was the low point of the meal.

East meets West was our other entree. It was  a tenderloin and shrimp with mango salsa, quinoa and fried zucchini. A solid dish. We were both stuffed by now and we didn’t want to skip on dessert (we were celebrating, remember?), so we didn’t quite finish this dish.

The dessert we split (we were watching our portions and we had just had a popsicle) was a coconut chocolate chip pecan pie. It was outstanding. Highly recommended if you like pecan pie.

Overall, a solid meal and a great suggestion from a local hipster. When he threw out that they were using local, organic ingredients, I knew that we were headed in the right direction. What we got was a nice little birthday dinner in the middle of a great town to spend the weekend in.

RATING: ***

The Floridian on Urbanspoon

Review: Chicken Scratch. Dallas, TX.

Chicken Scratch
2303 Pittman St
Dallas, TX 75208

I should start this review off with a clarification: the original intention of this particular night was to go to Sissy’s. Unfortunately, we were spurned at the door (nothing available til 9:00PM…. it was 5:30 on a Wednesday). We quickly regrouped and decided to head over to Chicken Scratch (Side Note: the lady at Sissy’s told us they do To-Go orders, which was oddly annoying as well).

This was my second time eating here. My first experience was similar to Scott Reitz’s. The chicken was good, but the skin crumbled off the meat with any sort of agitation. I still liked it but definitely could have used some improvement. This time the chicken (and skin) were more on point.

Chicken Scratch is set up next to its sister bar the Foundry, and the two share a courtyard. What does this mean for you fellow texan? No Air Conditioning and yes I get as annoyed by that scenario as you probably do.

The whole bird fried was a lot of chicken (as expected).Tim Byre’s process of shallow frying the chickens lends to an extra crispy exterior. It’s an old school approach, which Byres seems to take in all of his restaurants.

There’s a certain sweetness to be batter, which I enjoy, though Mrs. Roadrunner is less a fan of.

One thing that we both agree on is that the chicken tamales are amazing. Probably my favorite tamales in the metroplex. One time I saw a video of Byres stepping through the process of making them and got really excited. I was quickly thwarted by the realization of the effort it takes to make them. I’ll just get mine from Chicken Scratch for now.

 The Mac n’ Cheese was good with the seasoning on top, but ordinary past that. The biscuits I found to be extremely dry and had me gasping for water after one bite.

The fries are delicious. I’m a sucker for good ones (who isn’t), and these are a favorite. Seasoned with a sweet and salty mix, I didn’t want to stop eating them.

The tenders appeared to be good. I tried to sample one, but little roadrunner bit at my finger (you’d think we never feed the kid).

Overall, this place is a solid meal and won’t disappoint. The chicken is different from most fried chicken you’ve had (which is a good thing to me), and the tamales are worth the price of admission themselves. The courtyard is a great place for kids to run around and play while you enjoy some food and beers from next door…. though you may want to wait until it cools down a bit.

RATING: ***
Chicken Scratch on Urbanspoon
 

Review: Smoque BBQ. Chicago, IL.

Smoque BBQ
3800 N Pulaski Rd
Chicago, IL 60641

I stumbled upon Smoque by way of a review via the BBQ Snob. BBQ, like mexican food, is not something I seek out when I’m away from the motherland (Texas) unless I see something that seriously peeks my interest. In this case, it was a 5 star review by The Texas BBQ authority himself (Daniel Vaughn doesn’t just give away 5 star reviews). Add to that the veritable praise from Eater Chicago and I knew this place was a must visit.

I efforted to eat at Smoque during my last trip through Chicago but was thwarted when I showed up to a dark lounge with chairs on top of tables. It was a Monday, and they were closed (This also caused my cab driver to tell me that Smoque “Probably has a website” and that I should “look up the hours before I head somewhere”).

This trip I would not be denied. Unfortunately, this time I wasn’t staying in downtown, so I had to drive there myself. After an hour and a half of rush hour Chicago traffic, I strolled in. I was exhausted (5AM flights do that to you), hungry and ready to tear into some good BBQ.

This is what the line looked like when I arrived. About 25 deep on a Wednesday night. This was a great sign to me. I never like eating at restaurants that are dead. You’re just asking for a terrible meal.

After about 20 minutes in line, I made it to the front and ordered. My order was this: Brisket plate with 2 sides (fries and macaroni n cheese), half rack of baby back ribs and a sausage link.

Let’s start with the sides. The fries were really good. Not super crispy and they tasted fresh. The mac ‘n cheese was really good as well, though the difference in portion size between the two was astounding.

On to the meat. As can be seen above, though I asked for all sauces to be on the side, my brisket was sauced anyway. It didn’t end up being too bad of a thing because the word that kept coming to mind while I was eating it was dry. The foundation was there for great BBQ, great seasoning and bark on the meat, though it was oddly lacking a smoke ring. Something was causing this meat to be way too dry.

The next set of meats (sausage and ribs) overwhelmed me with the same feeling. Both could be great, but both were extremely dry. The seasonings seems to be great, but there was no juiciness to the meal.

I’m not sure what caused this. Maybe they were having a hard time keeping up with the demand for the product and were cutting corners some way (heatlamps?). I hope that’s not the case. None of the great BBQ joints (here’s looking at you Franklin’s and Pecan Lodge) sacrifice quality of meat because of demand. Selling out of it is a badge of honor to those guys and they wear it proudly.

Overall, I would definitely like to give this place another shot. The components were all there for a great meal, but it was just a bit off. Reading their BBQ Manifesto, I don’t believe it was up to their high standards.

RATING: ***

Smoque BBQ on Urbanspoon

Review: Lucia. Dallas, TX.

Lucia
408 West 8th Street
Dallas, TX 75208

For the food-loving contingent of the greater DFW area, Lucia is legend. The story of its creation is the sort of proverbial fairytale that those of us who romanticize about owning our restaurant (I include myself in that group, even though I have no training, experience or knowledge for that matter and should know better) latch on to and tell all of our friends about. A husband and wife team? He cooks? She runs front of house? What an amazing set up!

That being said, I’m not the only one who loves this fairytale and desires to be a small part of it. Eating here can be difficult. Getting a reservation requires about a month of preparation. I actually booked mine about 2 months in advance, so going in this place had a lot to live up to.

The first thing we ordered was the obligatory salumi plate. David Uygur, the Chef/Owner/Husband, makes all the charcuterie himself. It’s known somewhat as his signature. Ours came with sorpressata, black pepper sausage, chicken liver crostini, duck pate and lardo.

While the charcuterie was good, having just had the charcuterie board at Toro Bravo a few days previously, I wasn’t blown away with it. Unfortunately that would be a microcosm the rest of the meal.

Next up were the pasta dishes.First, spaghetti with sea urchin butter was probably my favorite dish of the night. A great smooth tasting butter sauce and the flavor of the sea urchin really stood out. I could have done without the garlic bread crumbs on top, but it didn’t take too much away from the dish.

The other pasta dish was a potato gnocchi with texas tomatoes. This was very good and the tomatoes were fresh and amazing.

For entrees, we ordered druck breast with pickled cherries, lady cream peas and foie gras. Though I’m not a huge duck man, I thought this was really good. The cream peas with the foie gras were outstanding. Definitely not something you eat everyday.

The next entree (partly eaten above), was a slow roasted pork shoulder with polenta and coppolini onions. I thought the polenta was ok, but the pork was a real disappointment. The cut was full of so much gristle (an estimated 50%) that it was just not enjoyable. This dish is the main reason I would consider this meal 3 star, instead of 4. I understand that that is a slim margin for error, but with great praise comes great expectations.

Being a bit disappointed in the meal, we decided to not order dessert and instead cut our losses and enjoy a little walk in the Bishop Arts District.

Overall, I should mention that this meal was not a bad one. It was good in fact. The problem is that a meal that requires a 2 month reservation, and is praised by every notable food authority you can think of, is expected to be more than good. It’s expected to evoke sweeping emotions, to inspire you, to challenge preconcieved notions you had about food. It didn’t do any of those things for me, it was just a good meal. If the pork had been delicious, this would have been a 4 star meal in my mind, but still a disappointment of sorts.

All that being said, I am completely behind what the Uygurs are doing here. Dallas needs more restaurants with an undying dedication to quality. They seem to slave over every detail of the restaraunt from the wine list to every last ingredient. These are qualities you want in restaurants you spend your money at. Maybe if we had more, you wouldn’t have to try so hard to get a seat at Lucia.

RATING: ***
Lucia on Urbanspoon