Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Johnstown Brewing Closed

The story can be found here. Bummer!

Best of luck to everyone involved with that!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Good Places To Eat & Drink

Yesterday, I was looking over different blogs and saw Lew Bryson's Top Ten Breakfast Places. This prompted me to think about all of the different places that I've had some good breakfasts over the years, then good lunches and dinners, and of course, beers! Admittedly, I've been fortunate during the past 15 years to have gotten into situations that took me to many different places - whether for school or work or vacation. I can not list all of them, but here are a few that stuck out for various reasons - either for the quality of the food & drink or the service or the view. Without further ado...

Nate's Top Five Breakfasts
5. Skillets Cafe in Hilton Head, SC. This is more of a sentimental entry, though the breakfast food is very good. We first ate here in 1994 during our first of many trips to Hilton Head. In 2003, we biked over for breakfast only to find that the building had burned out because of a fire in the adjacent restaurant. This year, they were back with an all-new and expanded restaurant - the skillets were just as tasty.

4. Lowell's Restaurant & Bar in Seattle, WA. This place is in Pike Market, and offers full service dining on the second level - the food is good (I like the smoked salmon omelets), but the views are what make my list. If you can score a window seat, you'll have a great view of the Olympics, Puget Sound, and the Seattle waterfront. Once you're done, you'll have the entire market to explore (and don't forget to have a pint at Pike Place Brewpub!).

3. The Waffle Shop in State College, PA. Nothing remarkable about the locations or views - and maybe the food isn't world-class - but darned if we didn't find ourselves eating here almost once a week during our five years in State College. Reliable, great value, and comforting.

2. Breakfast In America in Paris, France. The simple fact that coffee came in a mug with free refills (in France) was enough to cement my love of this place. The food was served/cooked by American students living in Paris and gave us a taste of home. Now, before someone goes off in that "why did you need to eat an American breakfast instead of enjoying a croissant, blah, blah, blah" voice: I lived in France for 18 months, and not in Paris. If I go somewhere for a week or three, I fully enjoy the local customs, food, etc. and eschew the touristy umbilical cord of American fast food, etc. However, a year and a half without a bottomless cup of coffee and some honest to God bacon & eggs over easy with homefries is too much for this man to bear!

1. The Oak Table Cafe in Sequim, WA. My wife and I lived in Sequim for 9 months while working as D.O.E. fellows at Battelle Marine Sciences Lab. They didn't have short order cooks here - they were chefs. Just about everything was local - from the bacon and eggs to the seafood. To this day, I've not found a better breakfast place. If you find yourself on the Olympic Peninsula and don't eat a breakfast here (whether for breakfast or lunch), you'll have missed out on a spectacular experience.

Honorable local mention: Cafe 701 (Gatti's pharmacy) and Perkins in Indiana, PA.

Nate's Top Five Lunches
5. Neomonde in Raleigh, NC. Awesome Mediterranean food, including the best pitas we've ever eaten. This place is a short drive from NCSU, and we used to take out-of-towners here all the time.

4. Wild Ginger in Seattle, WA. I'm sure this could go in the dinner list, too, but we had lunch. We found this a little bit by accident, but boy what a nice accident. Great Pan-Asian food in a trendy setting.

3. L'as du Falafel, 34 rue des Rosiers, 75004 Paris. If you like falafel, this is the place to get one. Smallish joint in the 4th, with celeb pictures adorning the walls - including many of Lenny Kravitz, who frequents the place when in the City of Light. A nice stroll from Catedral de Notre Dame or Ile St. Louis (good ice cream there for dessert).

2. The Sea Shack in Hilton Head, SC. A hole in the wall. We'd been to the island for years and had never visited until this trip. Apparently it was made even more noted from a visit from Rachael Ray during her $40/day show. Regardless, this is an awesome place for seafood. You will wait in line for at least 30 minutes (outside), whether for take out or dine in. Once inside, there are only about a dozen tables, but the food is fresh and cooked to order. The fried scallops are out of this world.

1. Primanti Brothers in Pittsburgh, PA. The original 18th Street location in the Strip District is the best. Get a seat at the stainless steel counter and watch these masterpiece sandwiches being made. Get insulted for free and watch in amazement as a grumpy old woman picks up fresh-cut french fries with her bare hands seconds after they come out of the grease. I've had a lot of good sandwiches over the years, but I still haven't found one to top these (and yes, that includes cheese steaks from downtown Philly, which are delicious).

Honorable local mention: The Pizza House in Indiana, PA. Great lunch special, and a two minute walk from my office.

Nate's Top Five Dinner Places
5. The Coney in Indiana, PA. This was my college hangout, and now that we're back in town, we eat here almost every Friday night or at least once a week. Is it fancy? No. It's a pub - but it's also just now part of our life. It's like our version of Cheers, where (not everyone) many people know your name, or at least your face. And, in my humble opinion, they still have the best damned buffalo wings I've ever eaten. Anywhere. When not living here, I would drive out of my way to get wings here. And in the past couple of years, the beer selection (both in bottle & tap) has improved dramatically. There is only one lite beer tap now, and we do get some locals finally.

4. CurryHolics in Loughborough, Leicestershire, England. When I visited England on business, one thing I wanted to have was a really good Indian meal. This was not a disappointment - I had the best and hottest Indian meal ever. Chicken chili masala! I haven't found a place in the U.S. yet that makes it, but boy was it something. You know it's good when after eating, you're sweating.

3. Brasserie Beck in Washington, D.C. This was a surprise in that we stopped in thinking we'd just grab a light dinner and a few beers. We ended up having a spectacular dinner and excellent service. Definitely a great place to eat in D.C., but go early or make reservations well in advance. We happened to get lucky and walked right into a table.

2. Casbah in Pittsburgh, PA. One of the Big Burrito Group restaurants. Definitely a nice place to go for an anniversary or other special occasion. You can easily enjoy a three-hour meal here, with a terrific wine selection (and beer) to accompany a great meal.

1. The Angus Barn in Raleigh, NC. An old barn converted into a steak restaurant. Haven't been there in a long time, but boy was this a super place for steak (and a lot of other food). And with a wine cellar containing over 25,000 bottles, you'd be hard pressed not to find something with which to wash down dinner.

Honorable local mention: Nap's Cucina Mia in Indiana, PA. Superb Italian cuisine in a family owned restaurant. Never a bad meal here!

Nate's Top Ten Beer Places (it is a beer blog, so I'm listing ten)
10. Cölner Hofbräu Früh, Köln, Germany. If you like Kölsch, this is a nice place to enjoy some - particularly if you've just ascended and descended the 500+ steps to the top of the Kölner Dom. Although not quite the best of this style in the city - Pfaffen gets my vote for that - you can enjoy people watching here, especially out in front near the cathedral.

9. The Thirsty Monk, Asheville, NC. If we had a bar like this in Indiana, I'd never leave. Great selection of Belgian beers both on draught and in the bottle - ranging from the ubiquitous Hoegaarden up to Trappists and single special kegs that are almost impossible to find in the U.S.

8. The Brickskeller in Washington, D.C. One of my first trips to a real beer-focused restaurant was here. The menu is impressive, with offerings from around the world. Although every time I've been, they seem to have several things "not available" at that moment.

7. Zum Uerige in Düsseldorf, Germany. As with most German brewers, the selection is very limited, but what a terrific Altbier! Dana and I first went in March 2004. It was a Friday afternoon about 3pm and the place was packed. We found an empty seat across from two Rentners (retired folks) who lived only 30 minutes away but had never been. After a few rounds, we were happily conversing in German. By the time we left, I think I had 6 ticks on my coaster (if you've ever drank in a German bar, you know what that means).

6. Zeno's Pub in State College, PA. "Located directly above the center of the Earth" is there motto. Located in downtown, this is a great college hangout - with quite an impressive tap and bottle selection. On certain nights, they have live music, including 7pm on Fridays the terrific AAA Blues Band. Decent food from upstairs, too. Luckily, they've really cut back on the smoking there.

5. Sharp Edge (pick one of four) in Pittsburgh, PA. Super places in the Pittsburgh area to grab some great beers on tap and in the bottle. On Wednesday, they have half off on Belgian drafts. The food at the Emporium and the Creekhouse are really good, and I assume it to be at the other two places, too.

4. t' Brugs Beertje in Bruges, Belgium. Opens about 4pm and fills up in about 30 minutes - go early and get a table. Great selection of bottles and taps here. The only downside is that (at least when I went) people were smoking which kind of detracted from the beer enjoyment.

3. Staminee de Garre in Bruges, Belgium. One of the best places to drink good Belgian beers, if you can find it. This little gem is tucked into a hard-to-find alley in Bruges. Home of a nice Tripel de Garre and classical music.

2. Delirium Cafe in Brussels, Belgium. When you're handed a beer menu the size of a small phone book, you know you're in for a good evening. I was lucky enough to visit here with a fellow beer geek and his fiancee in September 2004, and we spent several hours on the patio sipping various offerings from some of Belgium's finest breweries. We even traded beers with the Alstrom Brothers (of Beer Advocate fame), who happened to be on one of their tours. This is a "must see" establishment if you are passionate about beer.

1. Akkurat in Stockholm, Sweden. An outstanding collection of beers from around the world, including some amazing cellared lambics. I hope to someday get back to this place - the beer (Öl) menu is here. I can't say much more than that. Though not nearly as extensive as some other places, the focus is really on quality and properly aged beers - I had a 20-year old gueuze that was phenomenal here.

Honorable mention: Zum Schlüssel, Düsseldorf; La Gueuze, Paris;

Well - there are just too many more places to put down here. Maybe someday I'll write an exhaustive list of places, but between Trip Advisor and several beer sites with excellent directories, you don't need me to tell you where to eat. It was fun, however, to think about these places again.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

North Country Brewing Company

So we've been to North Country Brewing Company twice in the past two+ weeks - both related to our vacation (see posts below). The first time was two Mondays ago, when we decided to head to the Prime Outlets near Grove City - both Dana and I needed some clothes, since we'd not been to the beach for five years. Before going to shop, we dropped off our cat (Abby) at my parents house in Chicora.

This evening, we went over to pick up the cat, and treated my parents to dinner at North Country for watching said cat.

Because it's a bit distant from Indiana (about 1.5 hrs), we don't get there as often as we'd like - but it's worth a trip if you're in the area. First, the building and the interior are pretty darned cool. Second, the food is outstanding - the last two meals we had were excellent. I recommend the calamari appetizer (Squidelicious) and if you like burgers, the Roasted Garlic Burger.

The beer at North Country has improved since my first visits. Tonight I enjoyed an Irish ale on cask and also their Creamation Ale (the building used to house a mortuary). The best beer I've had so far was during my visit two weeks ago - a casked smoked porter, Kian's Smoked Porter. Good stuff!

Definitely worth a visit! If I would win the lottery tomorrow, I'd try to build a place like that here in town.

Monday, June 02, 2008

My Free Shirt

So back in March, there was a link to a beer haiku contest at the Prague Daily Monitor - Evan Rail's Beer Culture site.

For funsies, I submitted two haikus - one in English, one in German. I forgot all about it until a couple weeks ago, when I got an email from Evan, saying he wanted my address.

When I picked up the mail today, I found a padded envelope from the Czech Republic awaiting, in which I found a nice green Staropramen t-shirt (for the German haiku). Thanks, Evan!

Evan makes frequent contributions to the Prague beer scene, and has written the Good Beer Guide Prague & The Czech Republic. If I ever get the chance to go, I'll be taking a copy of this book with me.

Hilton Head and Asheville (part deux)

So we're back from vacation - probably the best vacation we've had, ever. Really relaxing. Stopping in Asheville on the way down and the way back was a great way to break up that drive, too.

We always stay in a fairly inexpensive condo about a 5 minute walk from the beach. Nothing has changed much at those places since we started going, and May is a great time to go because it's nice and warm for swimming and sunning, but not so hot that you can't enjoy biking and golfing. The only downside is that we showed up on Saturday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend - never realized Hilton Head was so popular with college pukes. Saturday and Sunday nights were a bit noisy, but after they left, it was peaceful for the rest of the week.

The beer scene is deplorable - but I knew that from the past trips and bought beer in Asheville before arriving. The Hilton Head Brewing Company, which has been around since 1994, was still the disappointing place we remembered from our last visit - but at least this time they had four beers on tap rather than one! All were pretty crappy, however. The food was decent, and Dana swears they offered the best turkey burger she's ever had.

We ate lots of seafood. Lots. Including two trips to The Sea Shack (no website), where we had the best fried seafood ever.

We rent bikes for the week - single speeds with fat tires, foot braking, and wide seats - when the tide is low, you can ride your bike on the sand for miles (literally), which we enjoy. From the beach, you can usually spot pelicans and dolphins. On the numerous bike paths that cover the island, we spotted tons of different types of birds, lizards, and of course, alligators. Largest we saw was about 8-9 feet long, sunning itself in someone's back yard.

On Saturday, we drove back up to Asheville to stay over. This time, we enjoyed a few flights of fine Belgian beers on tap at The Thirsty Monk - great place! I also picked up a few more bottles of good stuff at Brusin' Ales to bring home.

In summary, great vacation. I enjoyed many fines beers, though the majority of the really good ones were of the Belgian variety. There were a few good North Carolina brews and I enjoyed trying some new breweries, but many that I got to try were not quite up to the quality of Pennsylvania beers to which I've become accustomed. The brewery that did stand out was The Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery, with a focus on darker brews.