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Restaurant Review – Ann Marie’s Bacon Bar

Irish Woman and I decided we wanted to go somewhere new for Valentine’s Day, and several friends recommended the Bacon Bar.  OK, ‘recommend’ might not be the correct word.  Have you ever listened to a teenage boy describe, in detail, the first time he saw a shapely young woman in a bikini?  Yeah, that’s how my friends described the food at this place.

To say we were intrigued would be an understatement.

The Bacon Bar is located in Jeffersontown, Kentucky, a suburb of Louisville.  It is a little more than a block away from one of the main intersections of Taylorsville Road, so it is easy to find and easy to get in and out of.  If you’re in Louisville for business, it’s a bit of a trip from downtown.  However, getting there from Interstate 64 is pretty simple.

The restaurant is on the small side, but was very clean.  It would be fine for groups of friends to get together.  I wouldn’t hold a big gathering there, but several families could easily meet there to have a bite to eat.  The decor is simple, but tasteful, and the walls are decorated with bacon-themed posters and pictures.

The wait staff at the restaurant was terrific.  Our waitress was attentive without being bothersome, and someone from the bar brought my drink out to me and explained it to me (more about that later.)  Our drinks were never empty, and we were checked on at regular intervals throughout our visit.

The food was unique, tasty, and exactly what we were looking for.  As can be expected, the menu is centered around bacon in all its forms.  My drink was a flight of three short Samuel Adams beers, garnished with three ramikens of bacon: beef, duck, and pork bacon smoked at the restaurant.  The pork bacon melted in my mouth, the beef bacon was an interesting new taste, and the duck bacon was outstanding.  Our appetizer was 5 bacon-wrapped segments of country sausage, which would have caused a sword fight with our cutlery over the odd piece, had Irish Woman not offered to split it.

My main dish was a delicious bacon buffalo chicken sandwich, while Irish Woman got the pork belly sandwich.  Both meals came with french fries, which were done perfectly and lightly seasoned.  The buffalo chicken sandwich was juicy, had the perfect amount of sauce, and the pieces of bacon and bleu cheese added outstanding variations in flavor and texture.  Irish Woman reported that her sandwich was juicy and tasty.

For dessert, we split a bacon brownie with caramel sauce, and it’s a good thing we split it.  Between all of the other food and the size of the brownie, we wouldn’t have been able to finish individual orders.  We ordered a brownie to go for Girlie Bear as payment for watching her little brother, and when I suggested that she share it with him, got that stony, hard look that all Scandinavian women learn.  I guess she liked it.

Overall, the cost for the meal, considering the quality of the food and service, as well as the portion sizes, was very good.  Our bill for the evening, including a good tip for excellent service, was less than $60, which is about par for two adults in this area.

I would definitely recommend the Bacon Bar to anyone who enjoys salty, smoked meat and great service.

Review – Claudia Sanders Dinner House

Tonight we kept up a little family tradition, and got take out from Claudia Sanders Dinner House for dinner on election night.  Claudia’s is one of our favorite restaurants.  We get dinner from them a few times a year as a treat, and they catered the shindig that Irish Woman and I threw when we got married.  The restaurant was started by Colonel and Mrs. Sanders after he sold off Kentucky Fried Chicken in the 1960’s, and their fried chicken is how I remember KFC from when I was a child, only better.  Imagine if your southern grandmother was in charge of a menu at a very nice eatery, and you have Claudia’s.

Service at the Dinner House is excellent.   Staff is courteous, friendly, and efficient.  When we eat in the restaurant instead of getting take-out, every one of us is treated as if we were the only patron.  Of course, when I asked what was good on the menu, I got the very Southern response “Honey, it’s all good!”.

The facility is done up in classic Southern style with burgundy carpeting, good lighting, fresh paint, and it is clean to the nth degree.  There is a small gift shop at the main door, which features both memorabilia for the restaurant and the Sanders family, as well as Kentucky treats such as bourbon balls and bourbon infused barbecue sauce.  The restaurant is on two levels, with a well-stocked bar available if you want a nip of Kentucky’s finest before enjoying your meal.

One quibble about the facility is parking.  The parking lot is a tad small, and the parking spots are tight.  Be patient if you’re trying to park something bigger than a Smart car on a busy night, and I’ve never been there when it wasn’t busy.

The food is, of course, the most important part of any restaurant experience, and the food here is excellent.  Of course, they have fried chicken, but baked and grilled chicken is also available and are very good.  The chicken liver dinner is one of my guilty pleasures.  Their ham dinners seem to be a favorite with the kids.  Each meal comes with its choice of side dishes.  Our favorites are the fried apples, mock oysters (an eggplant casserole), country-style green beans, and of course, mashed potatoes with gravy.  I’ve also tried their stewed tomatoes, creamed spinach, and corn pudding and I enjoyed all of them.  All meals also come with yeast rolls, which are an excellent medium for sopping up gravy.

Now, I will never try to fool you and tell you that the food at the Dinner House is health food.  Come on, it’s fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and gravy.  It all tastes good, but I can hear Jenny Craig quietly sobbing every time we take a bite.  As a treat or for special occasions, though, it’s perfectly fine to indulge and enjoy.   I just can’t convince myself to eat a salad in a restaurant that smells of good Southern cooking.

Price wise, Claudia’s is not bad.  It’s not a low price alternative, but for a rather upscale restaurant, it’s pretty reasonable.  We normally get the 15 piece family meal, which comes with four pints of sides and a dozen yeast rolls, with an extra side of mashed potatoes for about $40.  This feeds our family of four very well for at least two meals, so we spend about $5 per person per meal, which is cheaper than going to KFC and we get better food.  You might pay out a little more, but it’s an excellent value for the quality and quantity of food you get.

The location of the Dinner House can be a challenge if you’re not from Louisville or the surrounding area.  It’s located a couple of miles west of Shelbyville, Kentucky, on US-60.  If you’re staying in downtown Louisville, it’s probably a 30 to 45 minute drive to get to the restaurant.  It’s worth the trip, but the drive may be a bit daunting to someone from out of town.

Like I said, Claudia Sanders Dinner House is one of our families favorites.  If you’re in the Louisville/Shelbyville area and have a hankering for outstanding food and service in a unique location, you ought to give them a try.

A Confession

OK, sharpen your pitchforks and oil up your torches:

I prefer sausage to bacon.

There, I said it.  All those years of being a pilgrim in an unholy land are finally over.

Look, I like bacon.  Bacon tastes good.  It’s just a bit boring to me.  When I bite into a piece of pork belly, I taste salt, smoke, and pepper.   Maybe every now and then I’ll taste smoke from a different wood, or maybe a little less pepper, but that’s it to me.

Sausage, on the other hand, comes in a myriad of flavors, components, textures, and styles.  I love trying local brands of breakfast sausage almost as much as I like trying local micro-brewed beers.

Come on, how many times have you enjoyed a couple fluffy buttermilk biscuits smothered in bacon gravy?  Every southern woman I know has her own recipe for biscuits and sausage gravy, and they’ve all been wonderful so far.

Like I said, I like bacon.  It’s great as a side with eggs on occasion, it makes a heck of a sandwich with some garden produce, and it’s wonderful on a cheeseburger.

But when it’s breakfast time, for me, it’s sausage time.

So bring it, bacon banditos.  Lay siege to my home as long as you can to get to the heretic.  I have a freezer full of ground up pig, a bucket of lard, baking powder, and flour.  I’ll be fat and happy on biscuits and gravy long after y’all wither away due to lack of salty smoked hog belly.

Oh yeah

Last night, I showed y’all the two big pork roasts I was going to cook up for Sunday dinner.  After a good rub and a night under tin foil in the refrigerator, I put them on the smoker for about 5 hours.

Before
Skin and fat side up

After

The meaty side went down on the grill, while the skin and fat side went up.  I put charcoal on either side in the grill, and put damp cherry and maple twigs on top of the charcoal.  I was going to use apple too, but couldn’t find the bag of apple wood I put back last fall.

The smoke ring was about half an inch deep in the meat, and the skin and fat has a very nice smoky smell to it.  I saved all that, and I see a big pot of beans and rice sometime in my future.

Irish Woman didn’t have time to make barbecue sauce from scratch, so we took a couple bottles of our favorite store-bought, juiced it up with half a cup of Woodford Reserve and some chili powder, and let it simmer for about 20 minutes.   It had a very nice smoky flavor and a bit of a bite from the chili powder.  I have some of that left, so the leftover pork is probably going to go into a crockpot on low with it for a few hours tomorrow and be served up on buns.

Our sides were au gratin potatoes, some of the last of our corn from last summer, and country style green beans with bacon and onions.

A good feed was had by all, and since several of the families we’d asked over couldn’t make it, we had a huge load of leftovers.  Look for my cholesterol to skyrocket over the next few days.

This is going to be yummy

We’re going to get the smoker out for the first time tomorrow, and I’m preparing the roast beast to be sacrificed to the gods of hickory and apple wood.

Last time I rubbed this much boston butt, a female Navy seaman (seaperson?) from Southie gave me a black eye.

I disagree

The Food Network UK has published results from a survey that finds that a majority of British men prefer their mothers cooking to that of their wives.

I could not disagree more. 

I love to cook, and I love to eat good food.  If you’ve met me in the real world, you know that I’m not exactly anorexic.  My wife is an excellent cook.  Granted, most of what she cooks is going to put me into an early grave, but I’ll go happy.  Everything from soup to dessert is outstanding. I can think of only one or two things she makes that aren’t absolutely delicious, and even those are pretty good.

My mother, on the other hand, was one of the worst cooks I ever met.  On the infrequent times she would mistakenly wander into the kitchen, the food she produced was bland and textureless.  Luckily for me and the rest of the family, her lack of interest in cooking after my siblings and I got old enough to do the cooking kept us from having to choke down shoe-leather pork roasts, spaghetti in tomato sauce with no spices save salt and pepper, and hamburgers cooked until they were uniformly gray and tasteless.  Ketchup was considered spicy, herbs were what she smoked, and baked goods were usually dense enough to bend light.  Ethnic food was Doritos or a once-a-year trip to the local ‘Chinese’ restaurant, run by a nice Norwegian couple who didn’t seem to have a source for ginger or garlic.

I wasn’t much of a cook when I left to go into the world, I’ll admit it.  I learned to cook by making what my mother wanted to eat, so my meals were pretty much the same as hers.  I did, however, like the food other kids’ moms cooked, so I at least knew something better was out there just waiting for me.  I realized how bad a cook my mother was, and how bad a cook I had become, when I couldn’t get over how good the food at Basic Training was.  At the same time, the guys in my unit were having to gag down the food because to them, it was horrible.  To me, it was manna from heaven.  Since then, I have tried to learn to eat and cook as many different things as I can.

I honestly can’t understand where she got it.  My Nana, her mother, was an outstanding cook in the 1950’s casserole vein. Honestly, I would have crawled over broken glass for her baked beans and black bread*, which was the recipe she learned from her Nana in Boston during the Great Depression.  My Grandma, her mother-in-law, cooked straight out of Scandinavia and Germany, and every meal at Grandma’s was a feast no matter how simple the fare. It’s not like my mother couldn’t have learned to cook from at least two excellent examples.

So guys, if your mom can cook, give her a hug and say thanks.  And if your wife needs to learn some things, learn them yourself and cook for her.  She’ll learn by seeing what you like to cook and eat.  Just don’t be stupid and do the “Well, mom used to do this…” thing.  I have a standing reservation at the doghouse, and there won’t be any room at the inn for you.

*To this day, my favorite breakfast is baked beans, black bread, sausages, and fried eggs, served with a side of cholesterol and blood pressure medicine.  Nana used to make that with the leftovers.

Thought for the Day

Man hath no love like that of a labrador retriever in the vicinity of a three year old eating french fries and chicken nuggets.

Before and After

We went out to Gallrein Farms this weekend, and picked up a bushel of Peaches and Cream corn and half a bushel of tomatoes, along with onions, peppers, and zucchini.  The corn got blanched and cut off the cob, the tomatoes, onions, and peppers went into making spaghetti sauce from scratch.  The zucchini is going into dinner tomorrow night as a saute.

From the bushel of corn, we got 10 freezer bags with 4 cups of corn apiece.  We were really impressed with the quality of the corn this year.  There were no bugs in any of the ears and all of the ears were full of very juicy kernels.

Here’s what the spaghetti sauce looked like:

 Before:  Half a bushel of tomatoes, four bell peppers, and 5 onions

After:  7 quarts of spaghetti sauce made from the above, along with garlic, a little salt and sugar, and my own special recipe of 11 herbs and spices.  When I put all of the ingredients in the 16 quart roaster, it was within an inch of the top.  By the time it finished cooking, I got seven quarts plus a scant pint out of it.  And it is very yummy.  We made a meatless base for a couple of reasons.  First, if you put meat in it, you have to use a pressure canner instead of a water bath, and I’m not ready to mess with one of those yet.  Second, this will give us flexibility on what meat, if any, we pair this up with.

We probably didn’t save much money by canning our own pasta sauce because we had to buy our tomatoes.  With me being down and Irish Woman having to carry the load for almost the entire month of July, the garden was pretty much left to its own devices.  Apparently this meant being taken over by milkweed.  Our neighbor grows tomatoes, but can’t stand them (OK, I don’t get it either), and has been bringing over bags of tomatoes every few days.  We’re eating them fresh as much as we can, but I plan on either making some chili base and canning it or maybe just canning diced tomatoes or tomato sauce.  We’re also making sure that the neighbor gets a portion of every meal we make with the produce he brings over.  

If we get time this weekend, we’re going back out to get more corn and putting it up.  If we get through two or three bushels of corn, we can have enough fresh corn in the freezer to last us all winter for about 1/4 the cost of buying it at Kroger.  We also plan on buying a couple bushels of apples when they come into season and canning applesauce and apple butter.

Our goal is to have as much produce canned and frozen as possible.  Something tells me that prices have nowhere to go but up, and we’ll be able to save a lot of money by already having our own supply of fruits and vegetables when the trucked-in fresh and frozen stuff goes through the roof.

Now I’m really hungry

Here I sit, drinking a low-fat protein shake because it’s easy to swallow, and I read this article.  Why do I do this to myself?

I know I can’t eat anything on that list more than a couple of times  a year, but it all sounds wonderful. 

My loving wife is one of the best cooks I’ve ever met.  I didn’t get fat because she can’t cook.  She loves cooking with pork fat, bourbon, and spices.  One of her favorite breakfasts to make is biscuits and gravy made with a local sausage that tastes more like bacon or ham than sausage served with a fruit salad to cut the cholesterol. The other night she made beef stroganoff from scratch and I played through the pain just so I could have a little of it.  The smell of her cuisine over the past few weeks has been driving me mad.  It should tell you something that in the two weeks since I’ve stopped eating her cooking, I’ve lost between 10 and 20 pounds.

As I’ve recovered, I’ve tried eating a few normal things with varying degrees of fail.  After two weeks of eating soft foods like jello, pudding, protein shakes, and soft noodles, the thought of a Fried Cheese Melt or a Farmhouse Burger is almost sinful.  When this is over, I’m going to lunch at a Chinese buffet and I’m not leaving until I’ve tried a little of everything.

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