Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Tampa Scachatta

A few months ago, I stumbled across an interesting article that was posted on Saveur's website. A Philadelphia-based writer and illustrator named Hawk Krall submitted a feature about something called "scachatta" (at least, that's one of several possible spellings), a tomato bread with Sicilian roots that's not quite exactly pizza, but an egg dough sheet bread topped with a meat-based tomato sauce and occasionally sprinkled with grated cheese. The kicker is that, unbeknownst to me (and not only me - most of the local foodie cognoscenti also pleaded ignorance), Tampa is the home of said specialty; in fact, Mr. Krall visited a number of prominent local bakeries as part of his research. Not wanting to miss out on such a unique item, I decided to retrace his steps and get an idea of what scachatta is all about (as well as experience a sampling of other baked goodies).

My first stop was perhaps Tampa's most well-known bakery, La Segunda Central, maker of fine Cuban bread (you can't make an authentic Cuban sandwich without it) and other delectable treats on the fringes of Ybor City (2512 N. 15th St.) since 1915.  You might wonder why one would seek out an Italian dish in a Cuban establishment - one of Tampa's intriguing qualities is the intermingling of the Cuban, Italian, and Spanish communities (all employed by the formerly-massive cigar industry), which includes their respective cuisines.

Despite its age, the retail portion of the bakery is shiny and modern, clearly renovated sometime during the past few years to help serve the large volume of customers passing through its doors.

I was here of course for scachatta, but I had a difficult time controlling myself and had to pick up a few extras, namely a devil crab and a guava turnover, both of which were quite tasty.

La Segunda's was my first-ever scachatta slice and I wasn't sure what to expect, but it was savory and rich, reminding me somewhat of the sheet pizza I'd had a few years ago at Chicago's now-departed Italian Superior Bakery on Western Ave.  Still, I found the concept a bit lacking and was curious to see how the versions at other bakeries stacked up.

The next stop (Alessi Bakery and Deli, 2909 W. Cypress St.) matches up head-to-head on the local history front with La Segunda very well - it's been around since 1912 and offers many of the same goods, although with a heavier emphasis on Italian sweets (its founder, Nicolo Alessi, was Italian, not Cuban). As you enter the store, you encounter a large display of boxed scachatta ready for purchase.

The back of the box states that scachatta means "smash the bread" in the Sicilian dialect of Italian and I'm in no position to debate this.  What I can say is that I wasn't particularly enamored with this scachatta, either - it had a sweeter, milder profile than La Segunda's, but had more of a mass-production air to it, I suspect since it'd been made not onsite, but in Alessi's 100,000 sq. ft. manufacturing plant in northwest Tampa.

Feeling a bit discouraged, I pressed onward to Housewife Bake Shop, owned and operated by the same Italian family on Armenia Ave. (6821 N. Armenia, to be exact) since 1959 (the bakery's interior appeared to be frozen in time back to the 1960s with faux wood paneling and old drink coolers). Here I again encountered a mix of Italian and Cuban treats, including a sizable guava and cream cheese coffee cake that I had to bring home to the missus and kids.

They spell it "scacciata" at Housewife and turn out a tomato pie that's thinner and more savory than the others.  If there was meat in the sauce, it was very subtle.

Last, but not least, came Angelito's La Caridad Bakery (4425 W. Hillsborough Ave.), a place I've written about on this blog before for its decadent Cuban specialties.  Spanish is the main language spoken here, and I was able to muddle my way into ordering a devil crab (if you call it a "croqueta de cangrejo", they'll probably figure out what you're asking for) along with a slab of their escachata, which was kept in a refrigerator behind the counter.

The devil crab was terrific; however, the scachatta was even better, by far the best of the bunch that I sampled.  The tomato sauce (which was loaded with Cuban spices and sweet caramelized onions) popped with flavor and texture, plus the crust was nicely browned and not overly-doughy.  Just like most everything else churned out by La Caridad, they seem to know what they're doing.  I'm not sure exactly how much of this tomato bread concoction I'll encounter once we relocate to the Northeast (more on that in an upcoming post - Hawk Krall specifically mentions Utica, NY, Rhode Island, and northeast Pennsylvania to name a few), but if I ever have a hankering for scachatta, I'll be heading to La Caridad....

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Singleton's Seafood Shack/Pie Heaven - Jacksonville, FL

Hackknife Jr. and I recently made a brief 24-hour trip up to Jacksonville (about a 3.5-hour drive from the Canteen) so that he could participate in a state-wide junior piano convention. In between his sessions, we had a significant amount of downtime that allowed us to explore the greater Jacksonville area a bit, including the local science and history museum (handily referred to as "MOSH") and, of course, some eating landmarks of note. I let the boy pick our dinner venue in return for dibs on lunch - both Guy Fieri and the good folks from Roadfood wrote highly about a seafood shack out by the mouth of the St. John's River, so that's where we headed after a couple of hours at MOSH.

Singleton's Seafood Shack is located in the tiny historic fishing village of Mayport (founded circa 1565, not long after St. Augustine), home to a large naval base. You can find the restaurant right next to the St. John's River car ferry that transports passengers traveling on A1A between Fanning Island and Mayport. Although not much to look at from the outside (shack, indeed), patrons are greeted at the front door by a large display of the day's catch (much of it no doubt recently extracted from the local waters) on ice, including shrimp, crab, oysters, and various fishes.

Singleton's has a large outdoor patio where you can watch the seabirds and giant ocean-going ships navigate the wide river while waiting for your order. We started outside before slinking back into the shade of the covered breezeway.

Wanting both fresh oysters and shrimp, I settled on a cup of steaming hot oyster stew (featuring much cream/butter along with some tasty small oyster meat, some of it chewier than others) before the main course arrived, a basket of peel and eat Florida brown shrimp, cole slaw, and a terrific hush puppy (Hackknife Jr. was kind enough to also let me eat his).

As tempting as it was to try the house Key lime pie for dessert, I opted instead to drive us a short 10 minutes south into Atlantic Beach for some much-heralded pie at Pie Heaven Cafe. Congenial owner and baker Anita Hyde began her own baking business after being laid off from her corporate job with a personal mission to utilize as much of her profits as possible to reduce childhood hunger.

She managed to talk me into buying 2 slices of her wonderful pie, one of which (the Key lime, decadently-rich and custardy) I immediately consumed in the shop, the other (an equally-good chocolate bourbon pecan concoction) kept me company on the long, late-night return drive to Tampa later that evening (ed. note: it's not easy to eat pie when operating a motor vehicle in the dark - be safe, kids, and put the baked goods away until you get home or at least stop at a traffic light)...

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Danny's All American Diner

While I like to goof on Guy Fieri sometimes, I have to admit that a lot of the dining recommendations from his Food Network show Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives are on point. During the nearly 10 years that Triple D has been around, Guy has featured places in the Tampa Bay area on 7 separate occasions and I'm happy to report that, as of yesterday, I've now visited 6 of those 7 establishments; I'll even daresay that I think this latest one is my favorite of the bunch. The kinder and I first explored Danny's All American Diner (4406 N. Falkenburg Rd.) on State Fair Day in February (you know, the day in western Hillsborough County when all the kids are off from school and they each get a free ticket to the Florida State Fair - wait, what do you mean they don't do that where you live?). Instead of attempting to bodysurf the gap-toothed multitudes at the fairgrounds, we wandered around the quiet (and mostly empty) Henry Plant Museum in downtown Tampa before venturing out to Danny's for lunch, located about 2 miles east of the state fair site (about as close as I wanted to get that day). During this visit, I had to try the marquee item on the menu; that is, the Guy Fieri's Triple Play burger, which included a 2/5 lb. beef patty topped with pastrami, mojo pork (3 meats total, hence the "triple play" designation), Swiss and American cheeses, mustard, tomato, jalapenos, and fried onion rings, all on a sourdough bun. Yes, this monstrosity kept me close to a restroom for a couple of days, but yes, it was all worth it in the end.  On my more recent trip, I was in the mood for a Cuban sandwich and decided to put Danny's to the test again (allegedly, they offer one of the better Cubans in town).

If you're not careful when you're driving down Falkenburg Road, you'll zoom right past the small, relatively nondescript stand that houses Danny's operations.  All seating is outdoors (there are tables in front and around back) and parking is available in the scruffy, but shaded vacant lot across the street.

When you approach the ordering window, be sure to slide open the lid of the metal drink cooler and poke around a bit - inside is a terrific selection of some hard-to-find specialty sodas, including one of my favorites, Ale 8-1 from Kentucky (you can see some of the sodas above).  Also, try to resist the urge to order the Roberto Clemente burger that's being suggested to you via an enticing window painting (that's not actual size, by the way).

The staff is very friendly at Danny's, but the operation is pretty bare bones (and they seem to get a lot of call-in orders for takeout around lunchtime), so be prepared to wait a little while for your food. Pro tip - if it's warm out ('s Florida), the picnic tables situated behind the storage container in the back lot are cooled off by a large electric fan.

The house Cuban sandwich is large and very tasty, definitely landing on the list of my local Top 5 Cubans. All of the traditional toppings are there (Genoa salami if you're a Tampanian, lots of Virginia baked ham, pulled pork, Swiss cheese, dill pickles, and mustard), plus a couple of others (mayo and capicolla), and the bread (which may or may not be from La Segunda Bakery in Ybor City - I couldn't tell exactly) is pressed until crunchy, a crucial characteristic of a true Cuban.

It was the onion rings that held up my order, but they were definitely worth the wait: a white paper sack filled with large, golden rings, hot and crispy from the fryer. If you must get fries, be sure to select the mix (half of each) instead.

The menu is extensive enough at Danny's that multiple visits will be required to experience all of the best sandwiches they have to offer. Although it's not close to the Canteen (about 40 minutes away), I won't be waiting for the State Fair to roll around again before returning...

Friday, April 22, 2016

WUSF Longest Table 2016

A few weeks ago, Mrs. Hackknife and I attended our second Longest Table dinner in downtown St. Petersburg. For those of you new to the concept, the Tampa Bay area's local National Public Radio affiliate (WUSF) sponsors an annual fundraiser where guests dine at a number of tables arranged in the middle of Bayshore Blvd. (thankfully, someone always remembers to bring traffic cones). At our first Longest Table in 2014, the number of participating restaurants was much more modest than this iteration, where 11 different eateries signed on to provide an elegant evening of fine dining. The chefs from our chosen restaurant, FarmTable Kitchen (one of our favorites, as you know) prepared a four-course tasting menu, with each "course" consisting of three different dishes served family-style, for an overall total of 12 dishes. As you can imagine, we didn't leave hungry (or thirsty, for that matter - bottomless wines were paired with each of the four main courses). The weather was great, the company was fun, and we unexpectedly returned home with an abstract painting won via silent auction - not a bad way to spend a spring weeknight.

Ahi Tuna Nicoise with Hard-Boiled Egg, Nicoise Olives, and Haricot Verts

Oak-Fired Baby Octopus with Chickpeas, Saffron, and Oregano

Chef Jeff from FarmTable Preparing the Red Snapper Crudo

Snapper Crudo with Pink Grapefruit, Breakfast Radish, and Pickled Fresno Peppers

Uriah's Urban Farm Greens Salad with Green Goddess Dressing

Roasted Tri-Color Beets with Dancing Farms Goat Cheese, Pistachios, and Champagne Vinaigrette

Panzanella Salad with Locale Mozzarella, Cherry Tomatoes, Basil, and Garlic Croutons

Pavlova with Strawberries, Lemon Curd, and Balsamic Reduction

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Hot Chicken and Waffles/Blueberry Shortcake (Cask & Larder - Winter Park)

After surviving a strenuous weekend of camping at Disney World's Ft. Wilderness (yes, I'm aware that's not REAL camping, but it's as close as we get here at the Hackknife household), Mrs. H. and I felt the need to reward ourselves with a hearty brunch. Fortunately for us, one of our favorite restaurants, Cask & Larder in Winter Park was a mere 30-minute drive away, and we managed to beat the late Sunday morning crowd to grab a table. Several items on the brunch menu stand out, not the least of which are the hot chicken and waffles (see top), with the chicken served Nashville-style covered in a spicy cayenne pepper paste (a little too spicy for my tastes, in fact), along with cornbread waffles, smoked honey, sweet relish, and creme fraiche studded with dill.  My personal favorite happened to be the "bakeshop on a board" (a steal at $12), which included a sweet tooth-satisfying babka, beignet, and a blueberry shortcake (second picture) with rosemary butter and black pepper that should be the envy of home bakers everywhere.  I can endure hungry mosquitoes, a lumpy bed, and rowdy 6-year olds for this kind of payoff...

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Los Angeles Eats - March 2016

It recently occurred to me that, in the 3 years since we've moved to Florida, I haven't taken a single trip away from the family (save for a funeral, but that doesn't really count, right?). Mrs. Hackknife, on the other hand, when she's not traveling for work once or twice a month, has gone out of town with girlfriends probably 6 or 7 times during that same period. This is how I came to find myself on a late-night flight a few Thursdays ago towards the West Coast for a brief and overdue getaway to see my good friends Jaime and Lydia in Los Angeles. As per usual when I visit other cities, I'll take in some of the tourist attractions, but my main focus is food and, in this case, my guides were more than happy to oblige.

Every time I go to LA, I'm more and more impressed with the breadth and diversity of the cuisines available, the likes of which are unmatched in any other American city - it seems as though each strip mall (and there are many, many of them) has 3 or 4 different restaurants to explore. I applaud the efforts of local food critic Jonathan Gold (who happens to be the subject of a documentary film that's out now called "City of Gold" - we watched it one afternoon between meals) to cover this sprawling and shifting wonderland of gastronomic treasures, but I suspect he'll pass on to the great diner in the sky long before he's able to experience even 25% of them. Compared to that, the idea of me attempting to take in a representative slice of the local grub in 3 days is laughable, but that didn't stop me from trying.


Pastrami Reuben, Canter's Deli, 419 N. Fairfax

I can always count on my man Jaime to deliver on all night dining options when I get off the plane and this trip was no exception. Canter's has been a mainstay in the entertainment district on Fairfax since the 1940s (countless celebrities have popped in for nosh over the years) and a fine purveyor of New York City Jewish deli culture (the original owners came to California from NYC during the Depression to start a deli).  The restaurant is a weirdly-alluring combo of bakery, diner, deli counter, and cocktail lounge, seemingly frozen in time with fake wood veneer tables and brown Naugahyde booths.  Although the waning hours of St. Patrick's Day were upon us, I was still surprised at the number of patrons occupying said tables and booths at 3 am on a Thursday night, reminding me that there's a whole different world out there going about its business while I usually sleep.

For my money, you're unlikely to ever find better pastrami than Katz's in New York, so I opted for a slight variation here, namely the pastrami reuben, which was loaded with snappy sauerkraut and sweet Russian dressing on house-made grilled rye bread (the fries and pickles were also terrific, by the way).  It might have been early morning in Tampa, but my body was happy to indulge as if I hadn't eaten in days (negative consequences a few hours later be damned).

California Dodgers Roll/Vegas Roll, Xevichez Sushi Bar, 14117 Hubbard St.

What do you do after eating a giant deli sandwich in the middle of the night? Why, you go out for all-you-can-eat sushi for next day's lunch, that's what. Jaime and Lydia raved about this neighborhood Mexican-sushi fusion joint, which was bursting with a Friday afternoon early happy hour crowd. Fortunately, we were able to snag some stools at the sushi bar, allowing us to petition the chef to give us his version of a sushi "progression" meal.

Generally speaking, I'm leery of buffet-style sushi; however, I admire Xevichez's willingness to include even hot dishes and special rolls in their all-you-can-eat package (it's a steal at $24 a person as long as you come hungry). The fusion rolls on the menu were impressive - the California Dodgers Roll (see above) included a blend of avocado, crab, and cream cheese, deep-fried then placed on a bed of ground tuna/tuna chunks and finished with creamy sauce (their term, not mine) and eel sauce, while the Vegas Roll (see below) featured salmon, tuna cream cheese, and deep-fried avocado with spicy mayo and eel sauce on top. Add in the fact that you can watch basketball or soccer on the big screen in front of you during the progression meal and you've got the makings of a fine lunch (assuming you can go back home to nap instead of returning to the office).

Lucuma Ice Cream, Helados Pops, 450 N. Maclay Ave., San Fernando

Rather than shell out dough for overpriced desserts at Son of a Gun (more on that in a bit), my hosts brought me to a small ice cream parlor for after-dinner sweets one evening. Helados Pops specializes in ice creams and sorbets made of "exotic fruits of the Caribbean, Mexico, South & Central America", an intriguing concept if I've ever heard one (think mango, cashew, horchata, soursop, even cucumber with chili powder). The young man behind the counter (whose father developed the recipes and works back in the kitchen) was gracious enough to let us try at least 10 different flavors, which is how I discovered lucuma fruit, native to Chile and other parts of South America. Allegedly, lucuma is unpleasant when eaten raw, but works well as a flavoring in desserts - the lucuma ice cream at Helados really perplexed my palate at first, eventually offering up hints of curry and other Indian spices, a frozen treat like no other. I'd go so far as to say this was the best thing I ate on my LA trip and it was all I could do to keep myself from returning to get a chocolate-covered lucuma popsicle (something that was, in fact, on the menu).

Lamb French Dip Sandwich with Blue Cheese, Philippe The Original, 1001 N. Alameda St.

I know that I've written before in this blog about how some long-time "institution" restaurants can get away with having substandard grub because of their longevity - Philippe definitely does not fall into that category.  Open since 1908 and in its current location since 1951 (relocated for a freeway - a typical SoCal cliche), the purported originator of the French dip sandwich (a disputed title they share with Cole's, located a short distance away) is still serving up not-exactly deli fare, but more a selection of cafeteria goodies like omelets, pancakes, soup, and pies. The service is gentle (cadres of uniformed waitresses politely take both orders and payment from a collection of lines at the counter) and decor utilitarian, with diners sitting at communal tables perched in small piles of sawdust.

As you might expect, the main draw here is the French dip sandwich. The story goes that founder Philippe Matthieu accidentally dropped a sandwich roll into some beef juice before serving it to a customer, and he was so enamored with his "dip" sandwich that he brought several friends back the next day for more of them. Whether true or not, I can tell you that the French dip here is the real deal - I chose the lamb French dip with blue cheese per the recommendation of First We Feast (whose various LA-focused postings like this one last year were invaluable to my pre-trip research), requesting it "double-dip" (self-explanatory) as opposed to "wet" (where the whole sandwich gets dunked). When paired with some of the house potato salad spiked with paprika and just a smidgen of Philippe's famous incendiary horseradish mustard (a bottle of which I briefly considered bringing home until I realized that the airlines might consider this condiment to be a hazardous item), I was instantly transported to Flavor Country.

Crawfish Mac and Cheese, Little Jewel of New Orleans, 207 Ord St.

Speaking of Guy Fieri, it just so happens that a Triple D favorite resides just up the hill from Philippe on the fringes of Chinatown. When you enter the front door at Little Jewel of New Orleans, you find a market filled with all things Louisiana and a take-out counter to sample the best cuisine that New Orleans has to offer. Jaime and Lydia swear by the crawfish mac and cheese here and we decided it would be a criminal offense to be this close by without picking up a bowl to share.  Dense, cheesy, and mega-rich (and, amazingly, no calories), this bada$% creation of Chef Marcus Christiana-Beniger found a welcome spot in my belly.

Sweetheart Cake, Queen's Bakery, 809 N. Broadway

After Philippe and Little Jewel, our small party needed to burn off some excess energy in a bad way, which we proceeded to do while exploring the ins and outs of LA's modestly-sized Chinatown.  Of course, I just couldn't resist popping into a curious-looking bakery as we passed the display in the window and had to plunk down a couple bucks to try something new.  In this case, new took on the form of a winter melon bun, or what's called a sweetheart cake back in its home environs of China and Hong Kong (I have no picture, but you can see an example here on Wikipedia).  The golden round bun consisted of phyllo-like pastry (made with lard, if I understand correctly) layers filled with a slightly-sweet paste of almonds, sesame, five-spice powder, and candied winter melon (a popular fruit/vegetable in Southeast Asia).  Simple, yet deeply satisfying and not terribly heavy considering what we'd already consumed so far.

Mole Poblano/Calabacitas Tacos, Guisados, 2100 E. Cesar Chavez Ave.

Not having the good sense to leave well enough alone, I had to continue stuffing my gullet for the better part of the afternoon, which would eventually prove to be a bit of a hindrance (more on that to follow).  Still, you can't visit LA without having tacos at some point, and in a city blessed with world-class taquerias on almost every corner, Guisados stands out from the crowd.  Started by the De La Torre family in 2010, Guisados specializes in taco fillings that have been slowly stewed or braised over several hours (a departure from the usual carne asada or al pastor served nearly everywhere) and they consistently show up on the lists of best tacos in Southern California (no easy feat, mind you), including Jonathan Gold's.  Conveniently for us, the original store location in Boyle Heights was a quick ride from Chinatown and we soon found ourselves sipping horchata and futilely trying to clear space in the digestive track for more high-quality grub.  Heeding my growing discomfort, I restrained myself to just a pair of tacos, a wonderful shredded chicken in a dark mole sauce with dried chile, queso fresco, red onion, and sour cream (in the foreground) and an equally-beguiling vegetable blend (calabacitas) of corn, squash, bell peppers and tomatoes with more queso fresco and chipotle sour cream, both on handmade corn tortillas made from masa prepared at the bakery next door.  I also got a bite of Jaime's fiery cochinita pibil (shredded Yucatan-style pork) taco, who for some inexplicable reason asked the cooks to make it a 7 on the heat scale of 1-10 (even the menu advises to "proceed with caution").  This, as you might guess, caused him some distress for a little while and gave his wife and I a good chuckle (sorry, dude).


Various Dishes, Son of a Gun, 8370 W. 3rd St.

Let me start out by saying I had absolutely no issues with the food at Son of a Gun; it was very good, in fact.  Unfortunately, the remainder of the experience left us a little disappointed.  First, a little background: SOAG is one of a growing empire of restaurants belonging to Chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, who gained national recognition with their temple to all things meat Animal (we ate there on my last LA trip and it was terrific) and have since expanded into other dining endeavors.  Both cooks are originally from Florida and wanted to showcase their interpretation of coastal cuisine; hence, SOAG was born.  Although I initially questioned the wisdom of flying cross-country to eat at a place that I could find a reasonable facsimile of not far from Tampa, I trusted Messrs. Shook and Dotolo to deliver on what appeared to be a slightly-elevated take of seafood shack and Southern cooking, so I made us a reservation here.

If you've never been to Animal, it's small and loud; however, SOAG is smaller and louder, not much bigger than an actual bait shack with a whole bunch of tables and even a bar packed inside.  Our server was able to steer us toward some of the more popular dishes on the menu, such as the lobster roll with celery and lemon aioli:

and the shrimp toast sandwich with hoisin sauce, sriracha mayo, and herbs:

plus, an inventive linguine and clams dish featuring uni (sea urchin) sauce, breadcrumbs, and chili:

We even received from the kitchen a complimentary plate of smoked baby back ribs with pineapple glaze, chili-soy sauce, scallions, and sesame seeds:

All great dishes - so, what's the problem?  The lobster roll - $10.  The shrimp toast - $13.  The linguine -$23 (yes, I know uni is a luxury ingredient; however, that's not a big bowl of pasta).  And yes, having the comped ribs certainly helped, but we were splitting everything 3 ways, so we weren't exactly filling ourselves up on a tab that quickly surpassed $100 with drinks.  Although the dishes were interesting and well-prepared, I didn't really feel like we got our money's worth here versus our meal at Animal.

Capirotada, Mr. Churro, 12 E. Olvera St. (in the pedestrian mall)

Near Chinatown, you'll find the historic Olvera Street shopping district, a collection of museums and vendor stalls focused on the early Mexican settlements of old Los Angeles.  Inside a pedestrian mall lies Mr. Churro, a stand popular with both tourists and locals visiting Olvera Street looking to satisfy their craving for, well, hot and fresh churros, which I will admit are pretty tasty, especially when you have them filled with custard as Jaime and Lydia did (they have a machine expressly for the purpose of adding filling to churros - it's quite magical, actually).  Anyway, Mr Churro was advertising a specialty dessert called capirotada, a sort-of Mexican bread pudding that's generally available only during Lent.  My hosts informed me that capirotada recipes vary from family to family, but the standard dish includes toasted bolillo bread (similar to baguette) soaked in cane syrup, cinnamon, and cloves, into which various nuts and dried fruits (like raisins) are added.  Some versions also include crumbled white cheese on top (as did this one).  Rather than go with what everyone else was buying, I had to get the Mr Churro capirotada and it was, well, just ok, more savory than sweet, and a gut bomb the likes of which I didn't really need at this point (seeing as we were situated between big lunch/Chinese dessert and taco snack).  Jaime also tried some and stated that his mom's capirotada was better (of course, I can confirm that his mom is an outstanding cook and I was foolish to think I could get quality bread pudding from a mall churro peddler - you win some, you lose some).

Peanut Butter & Jellousy Burger, Slater's 50/50, 61 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena

Maybe it was because I was so full that I was starting to get drowsy, or perhaps it was sitting through the 90-minute documentary film about a famous food writer and his culinary exploits right before dinner, or possibly it was just because I didn't order the right thing, but I had a tough time psyching myself up for the behemoth burger that sat in front of me at Slater's 50/50 in downtown Pasadena.  Our group had attempted to nibble on some of the house vampire dip with carrots and celery sticks (which we ordered mainly due to the fact that we were so desperate for vegetables at this point) prior to the arrival of my Peanut Butter & Jellousy Burger, which is described on the menu as consisting of "Brandt beef, thick cut bacon, peanut butter, strawberry jelly, honey wheat bun".  This sandwich certainly looked good, but I found the bacon to be limp and chewy and the rest of it (including the fries) to be a little uninspired given the vaunted description.  The "50/50" in the restaurant's title refers to the house's signature burger patty blend of 50% ground beef and 50% ground bacon (my burger was not one of those), so perhaps this is what I need to focus on the next time I'm in town.


Caldo de Albondigas de Pollo, Vallarta Supermarket, various locations

When I woke up on Sunday morning, I felt sick - not so much the overindulgence type of sick (there had been plenty of that earlier), but more of the impending cold/flu/unspecified viral infection kind of ailment coming on, sapping my appetite on the last day of my visit and leaving me longing for some lighter fare.  Luckily, many of the Latino supermarkets in the San Fernando Valley (our base of operations for the weekend) have an impressive array of take-out food selections and we stopped in at one called Vallarta.  I've had lengue tacos here that were amazingly good before, but on this day, it was the caldo de albondigas de pollo (chicken meatball soup) served with freshly-made flour tortillas that rejuvenated my constitution.  This giant bowl was more than enough to get me going again and surely helped me endure the red-eye flight back to Tampa later that evening.

Many thanks to my gracious hosts Jaime and Lydia for (as always) going above and beyond the normal call of duty to show me the finer dining spots in their hometown.  I can't wait for my next trip to SoCal as I know so much more good grub awaits exploration...