Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Roland's Soul Food for Lunch

Nicole (L) and Mr. Roland (R)

Several weeks back  Shane and I ran over to eat lunch at Roland’s Soul Food, in the little multilevel, brightly colored concrete block building on the southeast corner of Chestnut and East 14th Street, in the spot that’s been many little cafes, most recently Bay 7 Seafood and Soul Food. Roland has had it now for going on almost two years, and every time I drive by, I say, “Dang, I need to try that place, and I keep forgetting about it.”

So, it goes without saying that any sign that advertises oxtails and pork chops is going to get my attention. I had gone online and ciphered out what specials were offered what day, and was leaning heavily towards Thursday, but busy schedules being what they are, Wednesday was going to be our Roland day, no matter what the daily specials were. So we decided to hit the joint around 11am, to miss the rush, and found ourselves the only diners present, which was fine, because it gave our effervescent waitress, Nicole, time to run us through the whole menu and tell us all the backstory that we needed to know, as we grooved along to the gospel music playing inside.

Shane had to order the chicken fried chicken; he always has to have the chicken fried chicken, no matter where he eats. Dude even ordered the chicken fried chicken at Hit the Spot Café over their superlative chicken fried steak. That’s how nuts he is for chicken fried chicken. I had a hankering for meat loaf, but also wanted to try the catfish, so we decided to split three plates, and then we could try all of the vegetables also. I was really tempted by the smothered neck bones. I’ve had some seriously good pork neck bones in Thailand, so that’s a cut of meat that gets my stomach growling. But I finally settled on meatloaf with dressing and mashed potatoes on one plate, cabbage and greens with the catfish, while Shane went for the dressing and spuds also. Nicole decided that since we were newbies, we needed to also taste the mashed yams and black eyed peas (they didn’t have any fried okra, because they couldn’t find any fresh okra from the produce guys, and the mac and cheese wasn’t ready yet).

Chicken fried chicken with beef tip gravy

Slab o' meatloaf

After a bit of a wait, Nicole came out of the kitchen bearing plates. Shane’s massive chicken breast was coated in a thin, crispy, golden batter and covered with brown gravy (with some meltingly tender beef tips included, so we could taste them also), with sides of gravy-coated dressing and spuds. Side orders of sweet yams and rich blackeyed peas found a home in the middle of the table, and Nicole brought us a taste of the succulent smothered pork neck bones. My hefty slab of meatloaf was delicious, and coated with a tangy tomato gravy, and my dressing and fluffy spuds were covered with the luscious gravy from the neck bones. The huge filet of catfish was sealed in a cornmeal crust that was a little thicker than I prefer, but the fish underneath was sweet and moist, the tartar sauce assertive, and the greens and cabbage spot-on. Big squares of sweet cornbread accompanied all, and mine went straight to soak up the potlikker under the greens. I really wanted to try the peach cobbler, but I was as full as Monty Python’s Mr. Creosote, and another bite of anything might have proven fatal.


Mr. Roland, as Nicole called him, came out to meet us and make sure we liked everything, while chatting-up several regulars. Mr. Roland is a very friendly and likeable guy, giving Nicole a run for her money when it comes to welcoming his guests. He has plans for converting the patio slab out back into an outdoor Zydeco music venue this spring, to go along with the gumbo and gator he serves. I loved my meal, and I will definitely be going back to see my new pals Mr. Roland and Nicole. The gentrifying hipsters in the area that are tearing down east Austin bungalows and throwing up McMansions as fast as they can would be wise to drop in to Roland’s for a bite of some real food and a healthy taste of what East Austin is really all about. This is soul food served up with a heaping garnish of genuine soul.

Mick Vann ©

Roland’s Soul Food
1311 Chestnut; 512/499-8833
11am-5pm daily (4pm on Sunday)


A Couple of Recent Stops at Sap's

Sap’s Fine-Ass Thai Cuisine: A Couple of Recent Visits

Over the last three weeks I’ve dropped in to Sap’s South on the way home from work to grab a bite. I live way, way south, so it’s on my way. If I lived cntral or north, I would have stopped at the newer Burnet Road location, at the southwest corner of Burnet and Koenig Ln. The Thai food jones was overpowering, and I was hopelessly drawn to its spicy-sweet-sour-salty lure. The first visit was on a fairly warm day and I decided to start out with Num Tok Salad with pork, S-S3, a tart, refreshing treat flavored with lime, fish sauce, Thai chile, garlic, shallot, cilantro, mint, and roasted rice powder, a perfect foil for the sweet pork. On the side it gets crunchy lettuce, red onion rings, and tomato, and a side of nutty, fragrant brown jasmine rice. Num tok means “waterfall” in Thai, a reference to the sound of the cascading juices from the meat cooking. It’s traditionally grilled and then sliced, dressed, and served with fresh vegetables as an appetizer to have with drinks.

Num Tok Moo

Worked just fine for me, getting me all appetized for the main course, S-P 47, Pad Prik Gang, a luscious red curry spiced up with serrano chiles and green peppercorn, with Thai basil and Thai lime leaf. It’s a famous street vendor dish, but just as popular on restaurant menus. I got it with chicken, which was a good match with the pork salad. The rich, dark red coconut cream curry was a nice foil for the tart dressing of the salad. Pad prik gang is listed as four chiles on the menu, and it earns each of those icons. Love this dish.

Pad Prik Gaeng

About ten days later that gnawing jones was back in full force, pulling me inexorably towards the exit off of Mopac that would lead me towards Sap’s. This meal needed to be a little more rib-sticking, as I hadn’t found the time to eat all day, and I was starving.  I started with noodles, specifically SF-11, Guay Teaw Kua Gai, which is a stir fry with chicken, beaten egg, mung bean sprouts, pickled radish, and a complex soy-based sauce coating the sen yai wide rice noodles. The platter cokes with a pile of crispy lettuce on the side, and a ramekin of a sweet-tart honey-based dressing, which I pour over the whole plate. Top that with some of Sap’s roasted chile condiment, and a splash of fish sauce and serrano chile vinegar, and I’m good to go. This is probably my favorite Thai noodle stir fry, and it annoys me to no end when I constantly see tables eating pad Thai. Don’t get me wrong. Sap’s makes a fine pad Thai, but for god’s sakes folks, there are countless other Thai noodle options out there, almost all of them more complex and creative than pad Thai. Get out of your freakin’ noodle rut!

Guay Teaw Kua Gai

I had a craving for vegetables and that lead me straight to Sap’s Sweet and Sour stir fry, SP-28. Before you freak out and compare Thai sweet and sour to the typical gloppy, thick nasty Americanized-Chinese sweet and sour sauce that coats a too-thickly battered chicken nugget, let me assure you that these are two completely different critters. Thai sweet and sour is more tangy than sweet, and is just barely thick enough to lightly coat the back of a spoon, with a whole host of layers of garlicky-ginger flavor going on. It goes with a fresh stir fry and nothing is battered. I ordered it with slices of moist pork, which comes with chunks of fresh pineapple, Asian eggplant, green beans, thick slices of white onion, wedges of tomato, and crunchy wood ear mushrooms. Look at this picture and one glance tells you this is a dish of a whole new color, even better when you match it with brown jasmine rice and give it a healthy sprinkle of ground Thai bird pepper. With both meals I ended up taking a good chunk of each dish home with me, since the portions are large and I couldn’t finish them in one sitting. But I’d be lying if I told you that those leftovers survived their first night at my house. Fantastic the first time, and just as good a few hours later. The best Thai food in town.

Sap's Sweet and Sour Pork....THAI Sweet and Sour (not what you think)

Mick Vann ©

Rancho Winslow Turkey Fest 2014: The LIBATIONS

 Rancho Winslow Thanksgiving, Part Deux, the Drink-a-Thon

My contributions

Let me say right off the bat, that I have blatantly stolen these descriptions of the libations assembled for the Rancho Winslow Thanksgiving Feast, from the producer’s websites and numerous other sources, especially Wine Enthusiast. I lack the wine vocabulary and critical ability to describe wines in this detail, but I DO know what I like. The goal of everyone was to bring wines that would go with the meal, which were of a reasonable quality, and not oppressively expensive (most were in the $10 range, or even less). We certainly succeeded in satisfying that goal. Every single bottle was delicious, and I would recommend them all. The top line gives the label details, the second line is locale, the third line is any rating that I could find, and the ABV, with the description below. There wasn’t a stinker in the whole batch. The libations are listed in their order of consumption.

Hops and Grains Alt-Eration                                    
Austin, TX                              
5.1 ABV
· A base of German Pilsner malt with hefty portions of Munich, Vienna, and a touch of de-bittered black malt. It has a classic upfront maltiness with a clean and crisp finish. Hopped with Mt. Hood, Hallertauer Hersbrucker, and Czech Saaz to provide a bitterness and level of earthy hop spice that plays a fancy partner to the classic German malt backbone. A 2012 World Beer Cup Gold Medal winning Altbier

El Gobernador Sidra Natural                                    
Asturias, SP                            
6.5 ABV
· Bottled at Arucas Sideria in Villaviciosa, Asturias. Mild to medium must; medium acid; bitter green apple flavor, very peel and skin-like in its astringency and greenness. Juicy up front but quickly drying late. Medium bitterness and lingering oily / filmy finish. Presents the fruit well.
25.4 ounce bottle, corked

Fâmega Caves da Cerca Vinho Verde 2013              
Minho, PORT                         
88 pts · 10.5%
· Pale straw. Fresh pear, quince, anise and lime zest on the nose. Fizzy and bracingly crisp on the palate, the bright apple and citrus flavors showing impressive cut and energy. Finishes firm, long and delicious, with lingering notes of minerals and citrus peel. Blend: Avesso, Azal, Pedernã, and Treixadura. 

Fuedi de San Gregorio Falanghina 2011                  
Campania, IT                         
90 pts · 13%
· Pale gold with green highlights. Elegant, intense aromas of apple, banana and pineapple with hints of white flowers. Medium-bodied with a lingering finish of citrus and minerals. 100% Falanghina

Robert's contributions

Layercake Chardonnay 2012            
Monterey-Santa Barbara, CA                       
90 pts · 14.1%
· The nose jumps right to rich, creamy lemon pie in the oven, with all the warm pastry aromas riding along. Rich layers of flavor fill the mouth; ripe Bartlett pears, brioche, hazelnut praline and grilled pineapple followed by a lingering, creamy, citrus finish. Crisp on the nose, rich and layered in the mouth, and clean acidity

Charles & Charles Volume II Rosé 2013                   
Mattawa, WA                        
90 pts · 12.7%
· The 2013 Rosé is a gorgeous and vibrant pink color with streaks of salmon and fushia edges. Wild strawberry and watermelon aromas are interwoven with Herbs de Provence, citrus and mineral notes. Blend: 86% Syrah, 6% Cinsault, 4% Grenache, 2% Counoise, 2% Mourvedre

La Vielle Ferme Cotes du Ventoux Rouge 2013       
Rhone, FR                              
88 pts · 13.5%
· A blend of Grenache, Syrah, Carignan and Cinsault, richly fruity and supple wine, ruby-purple colored, with aromas of cassis and spicy herbs, flavors of plum, blackberry, and currant, with a fresh finish. Jumbo bottle.

Bodegas Ateca Honoro Vera Garnacha 2012                      
Calatayud, SP                        
90 pts · 14%
· Big, fresh and ready to drink. A deep crimson color that is nearly opaque at its core, with ripe red berry fruit aromas with a mix of red currants, raspberry, and black cherry backed with pleasant mineral notes. A full mouth feel with intense red berries and tart fruit character followed with a lush finish. Wine Enthusiast Top 100 Deals of 2014. 100% Garnacha

Lechuza Garnacha 2012                                            
Aragon, SP                             
90 pts · 14.5%
· Beautiful scents of violets and blueberry are met by rich flavors of blackberry and wild strawberry. A full throttle wine with big flavors and rich texture. Full bodied with smooth, harmonious tannins, and a long, lingering finish.

dunno who brought it, tasted good though

Cellier des Dauphins Cotes du Rhone 2013            
Tulette, FR                             
85 pts · 13.5%
· 85% grenache, 15% Syrah; Deep red berry colored, it has fruity and floral fragrances, spicy and pepper flavor. Rich mouth-filling wine, tannic, long finish. Ruby red; ripe berry aroma; light body berry flavor.

Siduri Pinot Noir Willamette 2013                           
Santa Rosa, CA                      
91 pts · 12.4%
· Fruit forward with bright red cherry and raspberry, medium body, subtle hints of forest floor and a long, lingering finish

Sledgehammer Cabernet Sauvignon 2012               
North Coast, CA                    
86 pts · 13.5%
· Deep crimson, with aromas of blackberry, currants, clove, and cinnamon. Rich and smooth with a full body and juicy dark fruit, ripe plum and star anise flavors, balanced with smooth tannins and notes of briar patch on the long finish

mystery donor....tasted good

Rutini Trumpeter Malbec 2012                                
Mendoza, ARG                      
89 pts ·13%
· Rutini is one of the oldest wineries in Argentina. This dense, long-finishing wine offers notes of cherry, blackberry, sweet spice, cinnamon, plum, boysenberry and cardamom. Wine Enthusiast Best Buy. 100% Malbec

Grover's rum....tasteee

Papa's Pilar Dark Rum 24                                          
91 pts · 86°
· Named after Hemmingway’s fishing yacht (and his second wife) this dark rum is solera-aged in French oak, port wine, bourbon, and Spanish wine barrels, and finished in Spanish sherry casks. The oldest column and pot-distilled rums in this blend of Caribbean, South American, and American rums are 24 years old. Sweet to start, with vanilla, caramel, and citrus, cinnamon, coffee, honey, and anise build in the middle, with a long, velvety sherry-port finish. Gold at S.F. International Spirits Festival 2013.

Mick Vann

Rancho Winslow Turkey Fest 2014

Jeff Barnes, premier multi-instrumentalist musician and fireball

This past Thanksgiving there was a huge cast of characters at Rancho Winslow for the annual fete, but sadly the elder Mrs. Winslow was absent. Avalyn was feeling a bit under the weather and chose to not participate. We did have CBoy and Di Winslow, Granmaw Nancy Barnes, Jeff Barnes (the bravest of Combos, but without his better half, Gina), Havalah “Havie” Winslow and spawn: Violet, Connor, and Scarlet, Russell Evans, Lauren Varner, Miss Tasha of Memphis, Christian Broome, Deb Traore (and sadly, no Sib, who was off celebrating Thanksgiving with a bunch of his African buddies), Robert “Empty Leg” Abraham (who ate like a bird), Grover and Jill Swift, and me. Di was on point with her meal prep, not leaving me much to contribute, save for a sharp knife (courtesy of a sharpening job by custom knife wizard Travis Wiege). Robert also showed up with a sharpened carving set, and a sharpener for the Ranch. The reputation of the dullness of the cutlery at Rancho Winslow is legendary.

it's FRUIT!

Libations were in plentiful supply (see a separate secondary post just on the liquids involved). Robert and I each brought some Spanish chorizo sausage to nosh on, and Nancy made her customary chile con queso, while Havie brought along an ample portion of her Mom’s recipe of Chex Mix.“ Chex mix was something my mother used to make during the holidays and I wanted to have her around. Same as the cheesecake. That was my mother’s mom’s best friend’s recipe. An old Italian recipe.”

Spanish chorizo sausage....yummm

I got there fashionably early and Di and I set to work on the roasted turkey and the ham. Di had a recipe she wanted to try using an apple cider and cider vinegar reduction with lots of butter and some thyme, so we stuffed the cavity with some onion, garlic, celery, thyme sprigs, and apple, while I got a turkey stock reducing for the gravy. Di threw together a bread stuffing with sausage, mushrooms, onion, celery, garlic, sage, egg, and turkey stock, while I threw together a roasting glaze for the bone-in ham of apricot, rum, roasted garlic, onion, and Dijon mustard. Some slashes on the outside, and the pork was in the oven. Christian showed up and assembled a tasty made-from-scratch green bean casserole with a mushroom cream sauce.

Top right, horsey sauce; lower right, baked ham; lower left, Grover's delish smoked turkey; top left, the roast turkey (note my carving job on the smoked turkey vs. Robert's carving job on the roast turkey....and he's a veterinarian!)

Gravy (R),  and stuffing (L)

Christian's green bean casserole


Russell showed up with a big bowl of Russell’s Brussels, brussels sprouts caramelized with bacon, with sweet and sour crasins added, a delicious combo. It contrasted well with Di’s outstanding kale, shaved brussels, parsley, and scallion salad from the garden, dressed with lemon vinaigrette (a dish which is partly responsible for her and Chris’ remarkable weight loss of late). She also had a composed fruit salad of pineapple, strawberries, grapes, apple, and raspberries, AND a fantastic salad of spinach with pear, cranberries, and walnuts, with a ginger-sesame vinaigrette. Vegetable World continued with yams, baked and pureed with pecans, orange zest, and rum, and asparagus spears that I par-simmered, and then sautéed with lemon, butter, and garlic. We had reserved some of the turkey glaze reduction to add to the turkey stock and a little roux to make the gravy, and Di had whipped up a zippy horseradish sauce for the ham, and a cranberry and orange coulis relish for the bird. No Turkey Day meal would be complete without a dish of the requisite cranberry jello straight from the can, and the feast was rounded out with some surprisingly good par-baked yeast rolls with softened herbed butter.


Spinach and pear salad

Yams, yo

Robert and I commenced to carving while Di and Jill oversaw the assembly of all of the dishes on the countertop buffet. I sliced the roast ham and then carved that magnificently tasty and moist smoked turkey that Grover had slaved over, while Roberto vivisected the yummy roast turkey. With all of the platters and bowls arranged, it was a groaning board of magnificent proportions, which we all attacked with gusto. Once we all had plates in front of us, the room went silent, except for the clanking of silverware, with near-constant grunts of approval, and satiated groans as waistlines rapidly expanded.

Russell's Brussels


Di's kale salad, straight from the IAT Garden, the miracle weight-loss salad!

True, Robert somewhat disappointed with his subdued consumption, and Grover was a little on the grumpy side and off his usual Falstaffian game, but he had good reason. Grover and Jill own Johnny G’s Butcher Block in Manchaca (best butcher shop in Austin BTW), and not too far before the party, he had his palm severely cut with an errant deer bone. It was all bandaged up and had to hurt like hell. Plus, deer processing season is a huge strain on any butcher shop. It’s like Valentine’s Day for a florist or a restaurant, the first sunny warm day of spring for a plant nursery, or tax season for a CPA; highly beneficial, but a necessary evil of the business and enough to grumpify any butcher, even a normally jovial one.


My first of several plates

With a brief respite to let our meals settle a bit, it was time for dessert, featuring a yummy, moist pumpkin-pecan spice cake courtesy of Nancy, and a show-stopper of a cream cheese-style cheese cake from Havie, topped with cherries. With a slice of each and a sip or two of Grover’s silky Papa’s Pilar 24 Dark Rum to polish it off, I was nearly catatonic from the effects of a massive and stunningly delicious meal and accompanying wines. The whole crowd was glutinously zombiefied from the effects of the food and drink-a-thon, and copious compliments, thanks and congratulations were passed around for a feast well done. Rancho Winslow certainly lived up to its reputation of deliciously wretched excess, and the promise of Christmas prime rib is sneaking up on us very soon.

Nancy's pumpkin-pecan spice cake

Havie's mom's mom's cherry cheesecake

Mick Vann ©

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Beauty of a Finely Finished Blade

Santa Claus came early for me this year, when bladesmith Travis Wiege of Weige Knives here in Austin emailed me, letting me know that my custom chef’s knife was finished. You may remember my feature article for the Austin Chronicle last spring (see link, below), when I wrote a profile on Travis and explored the world of custom chef’s knives, while illustrating the myriad options involved in designing a knife, and describing the process of getting measured and fitted for my own knife.

bladesmith Travis Weige in his studio, holding Knife #50, MY knife.....

It’s difficult to order something like a custom knife that you know won’t be finished until eight or nine months later. The excitement wanes over time, and periodically you get amped-up all over again when teaser emails arrive from Travis letting you know the progress of the knife, as it slowly works its way down the assembly line. You can’t blame the lengthy wait, especially since at the time, Travis was making blades as a side gig. He started as an undiscovered artiste that those in the know whispered about, for fear that the rest of the culinary community would find out about him and the waiting list would grow longer. And now, nine relatively short months later, he’s given up his lucrative day job and gone full-time into knife making, and hired an apprentice to try to keep up with the ever growing demand for his beautifully crafted blades. Dude has gone fairly seamlessly from avocation to occupation, and carved out a really prominent niche in the Austin area culinary world while doing so.

my finely finished blade....Ol' Number 50

But enough idle backstory chit chat. What about the knife, you ask? I went by Travis’ studio yesterday afternoon and picked up my knife, Knife # 50. It is
absolutely gorgeous, with a total length of 12 ¼ inches, with a 440c high carbon stainless steel blade of 7 ½ inches in length, a width of about 2 ⅛ inches, and a very sharp convex edge grind (AKA “apple seed” grind). The handle, which was formed to fit a cast of my grip, is made from a matched bookend pair of stabilized lacewood scales. Lacewood, or Brazilian lacewood (Panopsis spp. (P. rubescens, P. rubellens, and P. sessilifolia) gets its name from lacey flecking from the medullary rays exposed when the wood is quarter sawn. I had doubts when I chose it originally, but after seeing that wild alligator skin-like grain and 3-D effect after Travis finished the handle, I’m glad I picked it. The pins are custom Sally Martin B-9 pattern mosaic brass handle pins, and they look fantastic against the wood of the handle.

handle detail, showing the grain of the lacewood

The knife feels incredibly solid in my hand, and it balances perfectly on my index finger where blade meets wood when I lay it sideways. Most importantly, it slices through food effortlessly, and with absolute control. It is amazing to use a tool that was built specifically for your hand, particularly when you have a big hand and have spent a lifetime clutching knife handles that are too small for you. Travis has created a brilliantly finished working tool that’s also a work of art. This is a knife that will be passed down when I pass on. And like Santa, I’ll look long and hard at my naughty-nice list when I decide who gets this jewel after I slip into that spiritual realm.

Mick Vann ©