Monday, March 16, 2015

In Search of: Food!

There will be talk of flying in this post, so stay tuned during the early digression.

It occurred to me recently that one of the most common themes when I travel to new places is the search for new places to eat. I have by no means come anywhere near exhausting the opportunities at home, mind you. Far from it, in fact. The truth of the matter is that it is too disruptive of the routine grind to 1) find a restaurant that all interested parties agree on (even though that is precisely two of us), 2) agree to turn around and head right back out on the busy rush hour roads to get to an interesting feeding hole, and 3) wait for forty-five minutes to be seated, prior to a half hour wait for foodstuffs to be delivered to our table. 'Tis far more simple to throw something together from the supplies stored in our pantry, assuming we have any palatable comestibles in there, or to go to one of our usual spots, be that drive-thru fast (that's a misnomer!) food or a chain sit-down.

And so it is that we only ever try new places when we take vacations or, in my case, when I fly out somewhere for breakfast or lunch.

Vacations, as it happens, are nearly impossible for us to take these days due to the familial obligations incumbent with caring for elderly parents, or in my case, in-laws. We really can't go any further than a two or three hour drive for fear of receiving one of the dreaded yet not uncommon 'We called the squad, meet us at the Emergency Room" calls. As you may recall from last year, we made a brief weekend trip to the city of my origin, Cincinnati.  Last week we went off in a different direction and found ourselves in another river town, this one being Pittsburgh.

I had only ever been to Pittsburgh on business travel, and even those were short stays filled mostly with, well.... business. The Co-owner had been there even less frequently, with the distant past nature of that visit being lengthy enough to nearly equate to "never."

I'll spare you all of the details, but as always I reserve the right to display pictures and make pithy comments about them.

Our first dinner was at The Grand Concourse, which is a fancy restaurant now inhabiting what used to be a train station:



We had reservations (didn't need them, as it turned out, as there were very few diners) for dinner, but arrived early enough to have a drink at the attached Gandy Dancer bar. I doubt if the bar surface itself has been around for a century or so, but the devices used to hold the bar rail certainly have:



The Co-owner had some kind of Mango-based drink, while I went with a pomegranate martini, which is not shown due to it being a 'pink drink,' which is something I don't like to advertise out of some form of latent gender programming.  

The Mango drink was reportedly quite tasty.


The main dining room is situated in the heart of the old train station. We wondered why there were no other patrons, but later figured out that most people prefer to sit in the area that fronts the river, probably because of the great view of the downtown skyline. We had that same view from our hotel room, so we didn't feel like we were missing anything by dining in the main room.





Not only was it quieter, but the waiters were relaxed enough to provide extra services like breaking up the Co-owners lobster and extracting the meaty parts for her.



The cost of her lobster being roughly equal to the defense budget of a typical NATO country, I went with a more affordable blackened Grouper, a fish and preparation style that I had very much enjoyed when we stayed in Florida for a week many years ago.


I was intrigued with the ceiling:


And dessert, which was wonderful!


As I said, the waiters had time on their hands. When they came to collect the dishes, one of them looked at me and asked if I "had ever been in the food service industry."

My blank stare was answer enough.

It seems that I had placed the silverware on the plate in " a weave," which is something professional food service people do to keep the utensils from slipping off of the plate.

Who knew??

That was a fitting end to our Friday.

Our only plans for Saturday were to visit the Strip District (which, while interesting and enjoyable, was not precisely what I had hoped for from a place called The Strip District) and to ride the incline located just behind our hotel up to Mt. Washington.

Figuring that there would certainly be interesting breakfast places in the so-called Strip District, I consulted the internet and found a diner. And as we all know, I love diners!

I selected a place called Kelly O's Diner, pretty much by random choice. It turned out to be a fine choice, and it was a very good thing I hadn't done a lot of research or I would have never gone anywhere near the place.

I feel like the best thing to do when ordering food in a new city is to look for regional things that I can't get at home. As an example, consider the kielbasa sausage, egg, and pepper jack cheese sandwich:
  

Consider also the home fries with peppers and onions. Nothing all that special with regards to the ingredients, but the way they were cooked to crispy perfection is sadly something that is pretty rare:


I had a chance to look at some of the non-breakfast stuff too, and was caught unawares by a thing called 'Haluski' - I had never heard of it.  This is also where I caught the first hint of why I would not have chosen this place had I done deeper research.


First things first, I attempted to get a definition of 'Haluski' from Wikipedia, but found their entry to be a virtually useless collection of gibberish.  Fortunately, I found a much better alternative:

Kelly O’s Pittsburgh Haluski

TammyTammy Baker
There’s a Diner in Pittsburgh, PA which was featured on Diner’s, Drive-In’s, & Dive’s. Makes home style grub. Yummy Polish Haluski!!

You can find the recipe at this link.
If you can't be bothered, here is the list of ingredients:

Ingredients

  • 3 T butter, melted
  • 1 large, diced onion
  • 3 T garlic salt
  • 1 head shredded cabbage
  • A squirt of water to help steam cabbage before caramelization with onions
  • Black pepper
  • 1 lb cooked, diced bacon
  • 1 lb cooked, strained curly noodles
You may not have noticed, but the intro to the recipe also contained a reference to the reason I would have avoided the place: anything that has been "featured on Diner's, Drive-Ins, & Dives" is likely to have become something of a tourist attraction, and those are places I try to avoid if at all possible. Fortunately, the brief moment of fame (well, just shy of three minutes, if you can get the video to work) doesn't seem to have gone to their heads. It's not a touristy-looking clientele:


We were also very, very impressed with the orange juice. Her, because it was especially tasty, and me because I was fascinated by the machine that squeezed it:


Along those same lines, it's a good thing we approached from this side of the building....


... because I would have turned tail and run if we had seen this first:


With an extremely satisfying breakfast out of the way, we wandered down the Strip District. Note that I have been unable to track down the reason for that name, but there is a bit of a historical description of the area itself available from the usual source:
The Strip District is a neighborhood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the United States. It is a one-half square mile area of land northeast of the central business district bordered to the north by the Allegheny River and to the south by portions of the Hill District.

In the early 19th century, the Strip District was home to many mills and factories as its location along the Allegheny River made for easy transportation of goods and shipping of raw materials. It was the home of the Fort Pitt Foundry, source of large cannon before and during the American Civil War, including a 20-inch bore Rodman Gun. Early tenants of the Strip District included U.S. Steel, Westinghouse, The Pittsburgh Reduction Company (ALCOA), and later The H.J. Heinz Company, famous ketchup and condiment manufacturer. 
The shipping infrastructure built around the manufacturing companies naturally lead to an increase in other types of merchants setting up shop in the Strip. By the early 20th century the Strip District became a vibrant network of wholesalers—mostly fresh produce, meat, and poultry dealers. Soon, auction houses rose around the wholesale warehouses and many restaurants and grocery stores were built to feed hungry shift workers at any hour of the day. By the 1920s, the Strip District was the economic center of Pittsburgh.
Yeah, well, okay. There were a few specialty stores mixed in with the T-Shirt/souvenir stores you would expect. This one sold nothing but various varieties of Balsamic vinegar. I was surprised at the incredible variety of Balsamic vinegar available as only a non-veteran of the Food Service Industry can be.



Speaking of The Food Service Industry, there was at least one gift shop that carried products that would appeal to veterans of that profession:


It's hard to discern what those are at first glance - they're little statues made out of (non-woven) silverware. The one on the left is a snow skier, and the two on the right are hockey players.

They also had these, for which I have no comment, other than the fact that I haven't often (well, never) seen 'CRAP' spelled as 'COPR':


There was a kind of general market as well, where the butcher shop was just getting set up for the day's business:


I was tempted by the fresh brats and pastas:



I even took an interest in the spice selection, albeit mostly because of the presentation:


This, however, was completely unappealing to me, regional specialty or not:



Grass Fed hot dogs are good, but Free Range Grass Fed hot dogs are better. They're so much leaner than those poor hot dogs that are kept in tiny little pens....


This caught my eye, but to understand it you will need a little backstory.

I had always heard that the best thing about cooking with Tofu is its ability to absorb just about any flavor (which is good, considering that it really has no flavor of its own), and when I realized that every type of "fake" seafood (crab, mostly) is made of Pollack, I thought it would be helpful if I were to provide The Pollack PR Marketing Group (before I realized that they have nothing at all to do with Pollack the fish, which is correctly spelled as 'Pollock') with a catchy catch phrase:

"Pollock, the Tofu of the Seas!"

Now, I realize that I am pretty much alone in the wilderness on this, but I find that to be uproariously funny!

With that in mind, I present you with Boiled Baby Clams, or what I choose to call "The Veal of the Seas!"


Funny store (maybe - depends on how you felt about the Tofu of the Seas thing): Co-pilot Egg asked me once at what point a calf becomes veal. My answer: "The moment you decide to eat it."

Yes, well, onward.  The next stop was the Oriental Market. Being as I am a huge fan of Korean, Chinese, Japanese, and Thai cooking, I just love the Asian markets. That said, many of the things on display are not all that appealing to me.

For example:



That's just a bit too much duck for me. Actually, any duck is too much duck for me.

I was immediately repelled by the very idea of this, but soon realized that I was simply mentally replacing the 'S' with a 'D', a problem of mine that has caused no end of confusion.


Ah, The Potato Chips of the Sea:


Oh, good, premium quality! I've had a lot of problems with the lesser brands:


Moving on to not-quite-dry-yet seafood, I came across these poor little nobodies.  Oops, that was meant to be "no bodies," for what is hopefully an obvious reason:


There were aisles of noodles and sauces, all of which were festive looking:




I would have avoided this diner too. I looked it up when we got back to the room and apparently no matter when you try to go there, you're going to stand out in the cold waiting for at least half an hour:


This store had everything!  Except macaroni. Odd, that.


We rode the incline to the top of the hill later in the day. There isn't much to say about Mt. Washington, except that it's worth the trip solely due to the means of transport, similar to almost all airport restaurants:


And the view, I suppose:


And so, at long last, we get to the flying portion of this epic posting. Thank you for your patience.

After a full month of not flying, we finally got a suitable patch of weather just good enough for a series of touch & goes. The rust was apparent; my first approach ended in a not-quite-just-practice go-around as I found myself 400' above the numbers. I had lapsed back into an RV-6 flying style. The next two were fine, so I called it good enough. 

Just a few days later we were blessed with a fine, if slightly windy, Sunday forecast. I pinged Kyle, Chief Caterer for The Jackson Two, to gauge his interest in flying out somewhere for lunch. I even had a place picked out: The Wounded Goose in Bidwell, Ohio. 

Why The Wounded Goose?  

Really, who wouldn't want to eat at a place called The Wounded Goose?

There's not much to Bidwell, OH. I think it's something like Population 12, but can't say for sure because no one has bothered to count. It does have some history, though:
The community of Bidwell was founded in 1881 under the name Heatly, after the arrival of the Columbus, Hocking Valley, and Toledo Railroad. Charles Heatly (1809-1888) owned the property where the new station was located. His home still stands nearby. 
Porter Station was built in Heatly as a means of transportation of passengers and freight, which led to its later expansion and the source of the name of the neighboring village of Porter. Circa 1900, Heatly changed its name to Bidwell in honor of John Bidwell, the Prohibition Party's presidential candidate in 1892.
[Booo! Hissssss!  Down with Prohibition!!]
The easiest way to get there would be to land in Gallipolis and grab the courtesy car for the fifteen minute drive back in time to Bidwell. Schedules were coordinated and the plan was in place. The only thing that could go wrong would be if someone else snagged the car before we got there - that's always the risk with depending on a courtesy car.

The weather was as nice as promised - there were only a few clouds down low, but I ended up climbing to 5,500' to get above the choppy air down low. It was glass smooth up there at 5,500, though.


The other benefit of climbing up there was a hella good tailwind.


As was evidenced by RV-6-like ground speeds.


With a 34 knot difference between my speed over the ground and my speed through the air, I knew that the flight back was going to be as slow as a wound goose.


I always enjoy the approach into Gallipolis - I just love the river.


Even with the great tailwind, I landed a few minutes behind a Cessna.  They grabbed the courtesy car, so lunch at The Wound Goose would have to wait for another day.

There was a bit of activity at the airport, though. One of the hangar tenants had pulled a small Experimental helicopter out of the hangar and it was attracting a small crowd of interested spectators. Always eager to please an audience. I quipped that "Big Boy Toys" in my house referred to anything that isn't women's shoes.

The group fully understood that and I was rewarded with a fairly decent group chuckle.



This is a Hirth engine, and it makes much less than 100 horsepower. It's pretty amazing that a helicopter can fly on such low power.




The takeoff out of Gallipolis is always interesting - I have to head pretty far west before making my turn to the north.


I didn't want to climb up into the huge headwind, but there was a price to be paid in staying down in the choppy air, too.  Some of the bumps were pretty extreme - one of them register 2.2 Gs on the Richter Scale.


There's a lot of mining in Southern Ohio.



The chop made for an uncomfortable wide, but trying to climb over it put me right in the teeth of the strong winds headed south.


Right. On. The. Nose.


Headwinds or not, it was great to be back in the air!!

2 comments:

shamsher khan said...

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Anonymous said...

Dave,

As much as you enjoy making and creating, and you love of computers (those boxy things that make me scratch my head and go "WTH?!?") I wondered if you ever considered building something...that could build *other* somethings...

https://www.inventables.com/technologies/x-carve

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